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Weiner scandal is reminder to watch what you post

The saga of U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner is not only an example of hubris, but it is a powerful example of what not to do on your cell phone. Unfortunately, the phenomenon is not limited to politicians, nor is it limited to the East Coast. Chicago family law attorneys have their own stories of clients who unwittingly provided e-evidence for the other side in divorce or custody cases.

One local attorney tells the story of a child custody case that turned around thanks to a YouTube video. The client's ex-husband had said he wanted custody of their children because she did not have high enough standards. The video came up in a simple Internet search -- that is, the video showing him partying with a group of women on a yacht in the Bahamas. The court let the children stay with their mother.

Sometimes the client finds the evidence himself. For example, there's the story of a man who suspected his wife was being unfaithful with someone over the web. A few searches later, the man found aliases his wife was using in e-mails. In a "be careful what you wish for" moment, he also discovered his wife was selling pornographic videos of herself over the Internet.

In a January post, we discussed the results of a survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The main finding bears repeating: Of the 1,600 member attorneys who responded, 81 percent had noticed an increased use of e-evidence over the last five years.

So, when things get tough, apparently the tough go to the Internet. Information and pictures that people share through social media sites can undermine their credibility faster than you can say "right click and save." Attorneys in Chicago and, we're sure, across the country have begun to warn clients about posting potentially damaging information, even with strict privacy settings. They have also started telling clients to shut existing sites down.

One family law veteran put it this way: "I tell my clients only to post what you would feel comfortable reading out loud to a judge in a courtroom." Or to a network news reporter at a press conference.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "What you post can come back to haunt you," Joseph Ruzich, 06/15/2011

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