Can you believe this news? According to some reports,Facebook was identified as “the ‘primary source’” of evidence in divorce cases by fully two-thirds of divorce lawyers surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. So,think twice if you’re married and using facebook.
This figure is especially incredible when you consider that Facebook didn’t even exist ten years ago — a testament to how quickly technology and social change can advance in our mad, modern world.That said, it’s not totally surprising that Facebook is playing such a prominent role in divorce proceedings: I’ve written about earlier AAML surveys which found 80% of divorce lawyers saying they have seen an increase in the number of divorces involving social media, and collecting evidence of infidelity from online photo albums, profile pages, wall comments, status updates and tweets. The AAML also found that many divorce attorneys have begun using a site, Flowtown (more commonly used by marketers) to uncover social media profiles by searching for an email address.
While two-thirds is an impressive number, I think it would be a mistake to conclude that Facebook is somehow causing marriages to end up on the rocks. As I have argued in the past, at most social media is just another way for individuals to pursue extramarital affairs; the basic deciding factor, as always, is the will of the individual — either to stay faithful or to stray outside of marriage.
Indeed, it’s worth noting that the AAML also reports no significant increase in the overall divorce rate, which “appears to be unaffected by the advent of social media.” On that note, according to academic sociologists, the number of divorces per 1,000 married women in the U.S. has dropped from a peak of 23 in 1979 to 20.9 in 1990, 19 in 2000, and 16.4 in 2009 (I suppose it’s possible that spouses are more forgiving, so fewer cases of infidelity end in divorce, but I’ve seen no evidence to suggest social mores have loosened that much in the last two decades).
In other words, Facebook and other social media appear to simply be taking, how to put it, “infidelity market share” from other cheating channels like telephones, cocktail napkins, and business trips (as well as working in combination with these tried-and-true methods).
Of course, infidelity isn’t the sole cause of divorce nowadays — and I imagine it probably isn’t the only transgression documented on Facebook. I’d be curious to know how much of the Facebook evidence cited by divorce lawyers relates to infidelity, and how much is used to demonstrate, for example, intolerable cruelty (nasty wall posts?) or emotional growing apart (different interests and groups of friends?).
It should also be remembered that matrimonial lawyers aren’t the only professionals prowling social media for evidence of marital shenanigans. At the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security has been using social networks to ferret out fake “green card” marriages between U.S. citizens and immigrants for the purpose of obtaining residency or citizenship for the latter.