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Are you old enough to remember "brag books?" They were miniature photo albums in common use in the 1970s and 1980s. Parents and grandparents would pull them out at the slightest provocation (or sometimes none at all) to display pictures of their little darlings to friends or acquaintances.
"Brag books" have all but disappeared, of course, due to social media. Any and all photos, videos, and anecdotes can be broadcast to everyone you know (and some you don't) with the click of a button. But just as indiscriminate social media use can have a negative impact on your divorce, it can also cause problems for you both with your children, and with their other parent.
Unlike their parents, who lived largely unrecorded childhoods, today's kids may have their every exploit documented online. But just because you can do something as a parent doesn't mean that you should. Let's talk about how your choices affect your kids—and your custody.
There are a number of potential dangers to your children from images you post. The first is that someone dangerous, either known or unknown to you, could identify, locate, and target your child. You might be careful never to post your address online, but there are other ways predators can find your child. One is fairly low-tech: post a picture of your little girl in her purple "Hillside Eagles" soccer t-shirt, and a predator may be able to gather enough clues determine where she goes to school, and where and when she practices.
Even more frightening is GPS tagging, which many parents are unaware of. Through this technology, others can identify where and when a picture was taken and uploaded. Theoretically, the picture of your adorable toddler splashing in your backyard pool could disclose your (and your child's) home address to a complete stranger. Fortunately, there's a simple fix: you can disable the GPS on your device while taking and uploading pictures.
It's also possible that your child's image can be stolen and misappropriated. One mother of a child with Down Syndrome was furious to learn that her beloved daughter's image had been stolen and used for an ad for genetic testing. Being aware of your social media privacy settings can minimize the access of others to your photos.
There are also potential future dangers to your children from technology that is evolving, or hasn't even been developed yet. Constantly improving facial-recognition technology means that even if you're careful not to identify your child in a social media post, other pictures in which he is identified may connect him with that one. Be mindful of this when posting an embarrassing shot you'd prefer your child's future boss or spouse not see.
Your actions on social media can affect you and your child in another sense, too, by affecting your custody and parenting time. Social media posts are routinely gathered and used as evidence in custody cases. What does your social media say about your parenting? It need not be a press release about your nomination for Parent of the Year, but it shouldn't cast doubt on the effectiveness of your parenting, either.
Minnesota makes custody decisions based on the best interests of the child. There are many factors a court may consider in this determination, including a parent's physical, mental and chemical health and willingness to co-parent. If your Facebook profile shows pictures of you out partying on a regular basis, or features regular rants against your ex, a court is likely to view that evidence in an unfavorable light when it comes time to determine or modify custody. I had a case where the Facebook page was used as evidence showing the small child holding a bottle of beer at a backyard party. It was used to say that the parent was allowing the child to drink beer. While it may have been staged, it was viewed negatively.
Be careful not only of what you post on your own social media, but on others'. In addition, ask your friends not to post pictures of you and your children on their pages. You can control your privacy settings; you can't control theirs. If your spouse or your spouse's attorney can find it, they may be able to use it against you.
Take the time to learn more about the risks of your online activity for both you and your children. Contact us for a consultation, so that we can help you protect your children, their future, and your relationship with them.