Social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and MXit are becoming the easiest way to prove marriages have irretrievably broken down in contested divorces.
NIVASHNI NAIR | 10 October, 2011 00:44 – Times Live
A wealthy Durban doctor created a fake Facebook profile as a “hot young thing” to gather evidence against her husband in their divorce battle.
A Johannesburg businessman installed cameras in the study where his wife logged on to social networking sites so he could capture her “wild affairs”.
Cape Town divorce lawyer Bertus Preller said it would be wise for unhappy couples to watch what they post because it could come back to haunt them.
“Posting status updates and uploading photos of otherwise fun-filled events on social networks have led to an overabundance of evidence in divorce cases,” he said.
“According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81% of its members have used or faced evidence plucked from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites, including YouTube and LinkedIn, over the past five years. In South Africa, the situation is the same.”
Preller said almost one-third of his caseload involved contested divorces in which evidence from Facebook, MXit and Twitter was used to prove that the marriages were over.
“Although adultery is grounds for divorce, one must show that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. But in contested divorces, one party will want to show otherwise, therefore evidence needs to be brought in to show that the marriage is over,” he said.
“These days, the first thing that clients do is go to Facebook or Twitter to get evidence. Often people do not log off their profiles or delete their inbox messages, making it easier for their spouses to gather evidence.
“So if you forgot to de-friend your wife on Facebook while posting vacation shots of your mistress, her divorce attorney may just be thrilled about you doing that.”
He said betrayed spouses went to great lengths to source evidence.
“Some have downloaded technology surveillance software to obtain information that will otherwise not be obtainable.”
A Durban doctor and mother of two, who spoke on condition of anonymity, wanted to catch her husband “in the act” to show the court that their marriage was “definitely over”.
“I created a profile and became his friend. We exchanged inbox messages three times and, on all three occasions, as he tried to convince me to go out to supper with him, he repeatedly said he was not married.
“He even said he didn’t believe in marriage and was not ready to settle down,” she said.
Although her divorce has not yet been finalised, the woman is confident that her “investigative skills will nail him”.
“I don’t think any judge would want me to stay with a man who said he doesn’t believe in marriage and is not ready to settle down.
“It hurt me at first because we have been married for 18 years, and have teenage sons, but I got over it when I saw the look on his face when I produced evidence.”