Online dating is ubiquitous. In fact, out of 54 million single Americans, 40 million have tried online dating. It may well be the most common way to meet potential mates these days. It’s also common knowledge that, when filling out a dating site profile, most people play up their good qualities and leave out or fudge their weaknesses. Using photo-editing software to enhance your appearance in photos is common, as well, or posting photos from when you were younger. Generally the attitude about online dating is “buyer beware”—in other words, you aren’t necessarily going to get what you see.
But what happens when you misrepresent yourself in your profile during a divorce? You’re separated from and/or divorcing your ex, so you might feel like dating again is fair game—but can lying about things like your marital status or whether you have kids cause problems? And if the information on dating sites can get you into trouble, what about other social media?
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers recently released a survey indicating that online dating profiles are now regularly used as evidence in divorce and custody cases. As many as 59 percent of top divorce lawyers reported an increase in evidence taken from dating websites over the last three years, with Match.com cited by 64 percent of respondents as the primary source. The most common piece of information used as evidence: relationship status.
According to AAML president, Alton Abramowitz, “Identifying yourself as single when you are not, or listing that you have no children when you are actually a parent, can represent some key pieces of evidence against you during the divorce process.”
Lies That Can Bite You
Lying about your relationship status isn’t the only way dating site information can affect your divorce or custody hearing. If you don’t own up to having children, the judge may assume that means you don’t want to share custody or have as much visitation. If you lie about your income, that can affect the court’s decision on spousal or child support, or even the distribution of shared property. Lying online gives your ex reason to argue that maybe you’re lying in court as well.
Other Online Danger Zones
Dating profiles aren’t the only place you can get into trouble when going through a divorce. More and more frequently, divorce lawyers are looking at all your online activity—particularly social media like Facebook, Twitter, and even photo sites such as Flickr or Instagram. Legal experts point out that online content can provide evidence of a person’s state of mind, their communications with others, time and place evidence, and their actions–any of which can be used to refute or support certain claims in court.
While you may think the photos of you partying with your new girlfriend on Facebook aren’t accessible by the court thanks to your privacy settings, the fact is that a judge can order you to turn over your login information and passwords. Just because your accounts are public doesn’t mean they aren’t admissible in court. If you say you can’t afford child support, but then post photos of your fabulous Caribbean vacation, or skip visitation with the kids because you’re “sick,” then check in on Foursquare at a bar or event, you’re inevitably going to get caught.
Keep It Honest
The obvious take-away is to lay low on dating sites and social media when you’re going through a separation, divorce, or custody battle. Surprisingly few people are able to follow that advice, but a little self-control and discretion goes a long way. Keeping it honest and discreet will significantly help you avoid potentially devastating fallout in court.