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If you don’t have anything nice to say…don’t ‘post’ anything at all!

Social media platforms are a modern technological marvel, helping us stay in touch with hundreds of friends and family with the mere click of a mouse.

Unfortunately, as some of our clients over the years have learned, their imprudent use during a separation can easily turn simmering tensions into a blaze of anger and resentment.

At the very least, digital venting can delay agreement
regarding key parenting and financial matters. At worst, a few
emotional seconds on a keyboard or smartphone can cause long-term damage
to childrens’ relationships with their parents and with each other.

Before thinking that you’re too mindful, level-headed, or concerned with
personal privacy to over-share your ‘dirty laundry’ on Facebook or
Instagram, know that it can happen to the best of us.

In fact, while recently preparing for an interview on radio station
2SER, Saranne and I estimated that at least a third of all our firm’s
family law mediations had been made more difficult by intemperate use of
social media by one or both parties.

The prevalence of social media-induced conflict among separating couples
is such that we now provide all new clients with a small piece of
advice during our pre-mediation chats: please think about
taking a digital detox while we work toward agreement on the issues
pivotal to your future happiness.

Many people find it hard enough to convey accurate meaning in their
everyday written communication, so imagine the potential for deep and
lasting offense to be caused when an author’s motives are less than
pure, and their remarks broadcast to a potential audience which include
Family Court judges (thanks to the power of the screenshot).

We completely understand the need to seek support, understanding and
validation from friend and family – but the immediacy and convenience of
the apps used daily to share the joys and milestones of our lives also
make them incredibly dangerous during relationship dissolutions.

It’s such an easy trap for any of us to fall into because jotting down
your emotions has a well-known cathartic effect. Before the internet
and mobile devices, counsellors would advise us to express ourselves in
letters that we’d never send – especially once we’d had the chance to
review them in the cold light of the next day.

Today, the quiet confines of your car, office or lounge room can feel
like a safe place to voice hurt and frustration during one of the most
emotionally intense times of your life. It’s just you, your iPhone and
an innocent-sounding question blinking seductively on your screen:
“What’s on your mind?”

If the answer that springs to mind is anything other than a humble brag
about your kids, a simple observation about the sunny weather, or a
rallying cry for your favourite sporting team – we strongly recommend
you step away from the electronics. Quickly.

If negative thoughts about your ex-partner bubble to the surface, it’s
okay to reach for the phone – but only to immediately dial a close
friend or relative with whom to share the burden. (Don’t worry if you
get their
voicemail. Ask for a call-back then wait a few seconds for the ‘tape’
to run out. When you hear the dial-tone, feel free to vent to your
heart’s content!).

Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to put disparaging thoughts and
emotions in writing. Whatever relief you imagine it might bring is
trifling compared to the potential negative consequences for your
ongoing co-parenting relationship. It takes seconds to decimate
goodwill that has taken months, even years, to build in the febrile
post-separation environment.

Of course, behaviours that undermine the reaching of accord on vital
issues are not limited to the obvious; the intimate revelations,
personal insults or sarcastic ripostes.

Included in the list of inadvisable actions are a range of passive but
nonetheless inflammatory practices.

For example, thinly-veiled criticism via hashtag crops up with some
regularity. It may well be true that so and so is #liar and #cheat, but
trust us, nobody will sympathise with these sentiments when expressed
this way.

A less overt but still provocative “tit for tat” technique involves
posting one for one Instagram pics showing just how well each partner
has ‘moved on’ in their life.

In an effort to win the happiness/thinness/tan/#blessedlife stakes,
we’ve witnessed exes mimic the composition and poses of each other’s
photos in a attempt to demonstrate just how much they don’t care
about each other any more.

Happily, despite the many examples of ‘getting it wrong’ with social
media during the separation process, we’re delighted to
witness the couples who get it right and to help our clients achieve
this goal.

Every now and then we’ll encounter a couple who’ve identified the
dangers of an ad hoc approach and want to discuss and agree the
parameters by which they’ll reference each other on-line. This can
range from de-friending and de-tagging on Facebook, to the sort of
children’s photos they post on Instagram in the future.

With rates of divorce sitting at fairly steady rates through the
marriages of Baby Boomers and Generation X, it will be interesting to
how the pervasive social sharing of private lives plays out for
Millennials over the coming years.

However things turn out, in these relatively early days of social media,
we think it best to heed your grandmother’s advice “if you can’t say
anything nice,
don’t say anything at all”.

Maybe Gwyneth and Chris’s ‘conscious uncoupling’ doesn’t’ sound so silly
after all…