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Are judges now asking for Facebook passwords during a divorce?

In several previous posts, we've discussed how social media and online networking sites have begun to make appearances throughout the divorce process. For example, posts or updates on a spouse's Facebook wall or Twitter may be used to bolster an argument that this spouse should not be granted custody of a child.

But can using social media as evidence go too far? During one divorce proceeding, the husband was trying to gain custody of his children. To do so, he wanted access to his ex-wife's Facebook profile in order to show that she was unable to care for her kids. He believed that she had made several statements online to that effect.

The judge in that particular divorce case ordered both the husband and his ex-wife to give up passwords to several online networking sites, including Facebook and Match.com. This is different from previous instances when the evidence was taken from the site simply by visiting the individual's public profile page.

The reasoning behind this decision may have been to ensure full disclosure from both sides. But should a judge be ordering people to give up passwords? Is there an issue of privacy stake here? Should anyone but the account holder be able to access the information in their account?

What happens if one side uses the password information for purposes other than gathering information? Could it harm one or both of the spouses if the other goes into the account and makes changes?

Currently, laws surrounding the use of social media as evidence in civil cases are minimal. There have been several different cases where judges have taken different approaches to using information gleaned from online social networking sites.

So if you are going through a divorce, how do you know whether you should give up your password information? It can be difficult to know when to refuse to provide a password - making sure you have discussed the situation with an attorney can help protect your rights throughout the divorce proceedings.

Source: Forbes: "Judge Orders Divorcing Couple To Swap Facebook And Dating Site Passwords," Kashmir Hill, Nov. 7, 2011

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