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When ‘likes’ turn sour: divorce in the age of social media

February 14, 2019 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle

It’s Valentine’s Day, which means couples across the borough are sharing pictures across social media platforms to showcase their love. But for couples who aren’t experiencing marital bliss, that Instagram post could be a big mistake — especially if they are cheating or trying to avoid paying child support payments.

“I had a case where someone was held in contempt because they weren’t paying child support, and meanwhile they posted pictures of themselves on Facebook while they were on vacations in France, Canada and Florida,” said Aimee Richter, a divorce attorney and the immediate past president of the Brooklyn Bar Association.

Richter took part in a continuing legal education seminar titled “Social Media and Divorce: Perspectives from the Bench and Bar” that was hosted last Thursday by the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association and the New York Women’s Bar Association at the law firm of Lee, Anav, Chung, White, Kim, Ruger and Richter LLP in Manhattan.

“This happens so much it’s become the classic example,” Richter continued. “People are pleading poor in court, but then they post photos of themselves out at restaurants and on vacations. It’s incredible.”

Richter explained that case law in the courts has struggled to keep up with the social media age. Only recently are exhibits like Instagram photos and text messages being treated just like any other piece of evidence.

“As little as three or four years ago, it was special to get a photo in from Facebook — or even a text,” Richter said. “Now you can serve a summons on a Facebook page. Social media evidence is not special anymore. It comes in like everything else. It has pervaded our culture and it has pervaded our cases.”

The discussion also focused on how to advise clients in regards to social media, as many lawyers in attendance shared stories about wayward clients inadvertently getting into trouble in the digital sphere.

“As practitioners, there is some standard advice we give clients about changing passwords, what to post and not post on social media and what to look for on their spouses’ [and] partners’ social media accounts,” Cavallo said. “However, despite all of this advice, sometimes we cannot prevent our clients from acting contrary to their own best interest.”

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The two-hour CLE was moderated by Judith White, the co-chairperson of the NYWBA Matrimonial Law Section. The panelists included two judges, Hon. Rachael Adams from Brooklyn Supreme Court and Hon. Michael L. Katz from Manhattan Supreme Court, and two attorneys, Carrie Anne Cavallo, president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, and Richter.

Richter explained that, when organizing the event, they had hoped to attract about 50 attendees. They were ultimately forced to expand to fit 80 people, because demand for the topic was so intense.

“It was great having a judge from both Brooklyn and Manhattan to give perspectives from each court,” Richter said. “It really was a big discussion. Judy asked questions of me, Carrie Anne and the judges, but the audience had a lot of questions and remarks.”

Richter remarked on how rare it is to have a CLE with judges from two boroughs while also having the point of view of the attorneys involved in cases.

“Judge Adams and Judge Katz are both fantastic matrimonial judges,” Richter said. “I’ve had many cases in front of both of them. They gave such great advice. They can’t talk about specific cases, of course, but it’s good to hear what they think about this kind of stuff and how much weight they give to social media during trials. The judge were fantastic; they gave up their time to do this and we appreciate when they come.”

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