Facebook key tool in divorce cases

Facebook key tool in divorce cases

February 21st, 2010 by Monica Mercer in News

A local man going through a divorce told his wife that he had sold the family's Corvette.

But there it was, depicted with him at a car show in photos on the man's Facebook page.

Chattanooga attorney Fred Hanzelik said that's just one of countless examples of lies and half-truths he's been able to catch while litigating divorce cases, thanks to social networking sites.

"I use Facebook all the time," Mr. Hanzelik said. "You'd be surprised what people will write on their wall."

The trend of using information from the Internet in family disputes has been growing for years. A recent survey, however, shows that most divorce lawyers across the nation, like Mr. Hanzelik, now depend on social networking sites as a matter of routine.

According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81 percent of divorce attorneys say they've seen an increase over the past five years in the number of cases involving social networking evidence.

Facebook has become the primary source of online divorce evidence, with 66 percent of divorce lawyers saying they use the site regularly, according to the survey. Fifteen percent said they use MySpace and 5 percent use Twitter, the survey showed, while 14 percent said they use other Internet sites to cull information.

Academy president and Nashville-based lawyer Marlene Eskind Moses said Facebook has become "such a rich source of information" that it goes without saying that it will help in divorce cases. For that reason, she said, she usually advises clients to either take down their Facebook pages completely or use them only for business purposes while they are going through a divorce.

Mr. Hanzelik said he realized the value of Facebook in his practice about two years ago when he decided to start a page of his own. Since then, he actually has found evidence of affairs in extreme examples of people who are not careful about the information they make public and choose to share with so-called Facebook "friends," he said.

"I always tell clients, 'Be careful who your friends are,'" Mr. Hanzelik said. "It's entirely possible someone may want to be your friend just to scout you out."

Chattanooga lawyer Richard Schulman said he does not use Facebook but admitted that it has helped in a couple of his cases when clients have taken their own initiative to dig up dirt.

In one case, Mr. Schulman said, a woman who insisted she did not drink had a photo on her Facebook page in which she was holding a beer and licking a man's face.

Those kinds of juicy cyber tidbits have, in some instances, eliminated the need to hire private investigators to uncover affairs and other indiscretions, Mr. Schulman pointed out.

"Why hire a P.I. (private investigator) when it's right there on Facebook for the whole world to see?" Mr. Schulman asked.