Facebook now a Factor in 1 in 3 UK Divorces: Can social media end your relationship?

Here at Hylton-Potts, our qualified legal consultants are always on hand to help you through one of the most difficult decisions you are ever likely to make. Divorce can be physically, emotionally and financially draining, which is why you should always contact a professional to alleviate as much of the pain as possible.

It’s only fair to assume though that as society and technology move on, other developments will begin to have an impact on all areas of family life and relationships, even when they’re breaking down. One of them that has been making headlines of late is social media, and the way it can affect how we interact with our spouses.

What’s the story?

There have been several reports published over the past few years that have led experts in the field to start urging couples who are going through tough times to put all social media on hold. Just last year, the Mail Online published the findings of a survey conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Slater and Gordon, where as many as one in seven married individuals told researchers that they had considered divorce due to their spouse’s Facebook posts, Twitter updates or otherwise.

A similar proportion admitted to purposely searching online for evidence of their partner’s infidelity, while almost one in five claimed to have regular arguments due to the social media use of a spouse. The research was commissioned as a result of the law firm experiencing a significant increase in the number of its clients who claimed that Facebook, Skype, Snapchat and many other social media sites had played a part in their divorce.

The survey was completed by 2,011 husbands and wives, and discovered that the most common reasons for checking their spouse’s social media accounts was to discover who they were talking to, who they were meeting and where they were going. A quarter of the married people questioned said the resulting suspicions led to rows at least once a week, and 17% said such rows were daily.

Interestingly, a fifth said they felt uneasy about their relationship after discovering something on their partner’s Facebook account, while a third said they kept social media log-in details a secret from partners.

Andrew Newbury, of Slater and Gordon, told the press: “Five years ago, Facebook was rarely mentioned in the context of a marriage ending, but now it has become commonplace. Social media is the new marriage minefield; specifically, pictures and posts on Facebook are now being routinely raised in divorces.”

Is this a new trend?

Clearly the use of social media is becoming more prominent in divorce cases, but it is certainly not a new trend. For one thing, another set of research published last year by the Mirror, found that Facebook is now cited in a third of all divorce cases. Leeds law firm, Lake Legal, examined over 200 cases and found that the social network is increasingly relied upon as proof of inappropriate behaviour, as well as being instrumental in providing evidence of infidelity, new relationships and even records expenditure on everything from cars to holidays.

Managing Partner, Lyn Ayrton, told the press: “Social media provides an ongoing log of our lives. The sharing of written posts and pictures, often with geo-tagging, provides a record of activities that can be used in a court case. Often, if a partner refers to an impending bonus, a new job offer or plans for a holiday, it may provide evidence that they are not telling the truth about their financial position. At the very least, it could call their credibility into question.”

Aside from this, a study from 2009 (a time when social media was in its infancy) by divorce specialists, Divorce-Online, claimed that almost one in five petitions they processed cited Facebook.

Mark Keenan, Managing Director of Divorce-Online said: “I had heard from my staff that there were a lot of people saying they had found out things about their partners on Facebook and I decided to see how prevalent it was. I was really surprised to see 20 per cent of all the petitions containing references to Facebook.”

What can be done about it?

The use of social media within divorce proceedings has now become so common that some experts are suggesting a detox of the platforms as a way of re-stabalising the marriage and helping to build trust again. Top barrister Sophia Cannon recently appeared on Good Morning Britain to discuss the fact that almost all divorce cases in court contain some mention of social media.

She claimed that sexting is also a problem, as the digital element is blurring the boundaries of whether or not it classes as adultery. She said: “Is that reasonable behaviour if you’re in a relationship or married? I don’t think so”, and instead believes the solution is a ban on social media.

When advising couples to try a ‘digital detox’, she said: “Marriage is supposed to be a contract between two people, but when you’re on social media, it’s not. It then becomes a contract between you, the other person, and pretty much the whole street!”

We know how difficult the decision to divorce is, and we know it is not something that is ever taken lightly or with the flippant use of social media. However, small arguments can build up over time, and the evidence is certainly too strong to deny the impact that the virtual world is now having on real relationships.

It’s increase in use by legal teams is most likely due to the fact that technology makes it far easier to discover a cheating partner, but also because social media is seen as entertainment, and therefore things like sexting are seen as harmless fun rather than hurtful and damaging acts. Infidelity is nothing new, but clearly, the way in which people are initiating it and communicating with others outside of their relationships is.

If you’re considering divorce or have just started proceedings, and you feel that this is an area where you’d like to know your rights, our legal consultants are on hand around the clock to help you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch; you can call us on 020 7381 8111, or via email at [email protected].

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