Social media and divorce – destroyer or saviour?

A Generic photo of a couple arguing. See PA Feature WOMAN Divorce. PA Photo/JupiterImages Corporation. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature WOMAN Divorce.
A Generic photo of a couple arguing. See PA Feature WOMAN Divorce. PA Photo/JupiterImages Corporation. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature WOMAN Divorce.
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Many people would agree that the ever changing world of social media and modern technology offer a wealth of advantages. For others, however, the ease with which their partners can forge new connections is proving a definite downside.

The myriad of communication channels have increased the potential to cheat on your spouse, with social media and mobile phones frequently cited by lawyers in divorce cases. Gone are the days of lipstick on the collar or a crumpled receipt for a hotel room. We are now more likely to discover our partner is cheating via a Facebook post or a text message.

Social media and mobile phone technology undoubtedly increase our opportunities to connect to people who we wouldn’t ordinarily meet, which can result in some pursuing illicit relationships. However, rather than simply regarding these devices as tools of marital destruction, it is important to also consider the role that social media and technology can play in resolving conflict and helping warring couples to move forward after a split.

Once a relationship has broken down, communication can become very strained as both parties come to terms with feelings of hurt, betrayal, anger and even guilt. Mediation and counselling is encouraged to help both partners to discuss the issues and to work out resolutions, but many people find it difficult to discuss such matters face-to-face. Using text and email to address issues can help, because the emotion is often less when communicating electronically.

Ideally, separating couples should talk to one another and there will be times when a conversation is required, but emotions can run high. At this point emails and text can provide couples with the space they need to calm down, although communicating via email or text does not preclude words being written in anger and leaving a permanent record. It is very important to take a moment to think about what you want to say, rather than just reacting, irrespective of whether you are communicating online or offline.

Ultimately, when used thoughtfully, social media, emails and texts can be extremely helpful, particularly when dealing with child care arrangements. Texts and emails can provide written confirmation of what plans have been agreed and can help to smooth over any misunderstandings about who has the children and when.

Similarly, when the anger has diminished, Facebook and Instagram can be great social forums for separated families to connect and communicate, with more people using it to share special moments of their children’s lives when they are with the other partner. Tagging each other into pictures enables the absent parent to see what the child is doing, helping to create a co-parenting relationship and sparking topics of conversation for the absent parent to talk to their son and daughter about later. Far from showing the absent parent what they are missing, it provides the child with parental continuity.

Social media and electronic technology has featured unwittingly in the breakdown of numerous relationships, but used sensitively, they can play a crucial role in helping families to heal.

* Written by Antony Ball, family law associate at the Doncaster office of hlw Keeble Hawson.