I've written articles before warning divorcing couples to stay away from social networking sites. It seems that Judge Shluger in Connecticut has set a new legal precedent by ordering a soon-to-be divorced couple to exchange their Facebook passwords. This order occurred in the midst of a nasty custody battle between Stephen and Courtney Gallion and it could mean more battling couples will be forced to give up their social networking secrets.
It's been widely known that evidence from social networking sites comes in handy for lawsuits and divorces. In fact, the majority of divorce cases and custody battles over the past few years, have involved some on-line element. Attorneys usually get that material by visiting someone’s page or asking that they turn over evidence from their page, not by signing into their accounts. But now a judge has forced litigants to hand over the passwords to their Facebook accounts. It's interesting to note that password exchanges such as has been ordered are a violation of Facebook’s terms of service, which require that users not hand over their passwords to anyone else. Judge Shluger did try to limit the effect of his order by telling the parties not to prank each other. 'Neither party shall visit the website of the other’s social network and post messages purporting to be the other,' he included in the order.
Stephen Gallion, a 24-year-old petty officer second class at the Navy submarine base in New London, became suspicious of his wife’s behavior around their two children when he spied some of her online comments.
“She left the computer on, and he went online and there it was,” said Gary Traystman, Stephen Gallion’s divorce attorney. “He saw . . . comments related to her parenting, or lack of parenting. There were comments that led him to believe her social life was more important than her children . . . She was using pictures of the children on the dating site.”
That led Traystman to ask the wife for her passwords during a deposition at his law offices.
Courtney Gallion, 22, provided them, but moments later, in the middle of the deposition, frantically texted a friend to have the passwords changed.
“I advised her to change it,” said Lindsay Savona, her attorney.
When Traystman realized what was going on, he ushered his client out of the conference room and the client immediately tried to log on to one of her sites on his smartphone. But the password was changed. Traystman then rushed to fax a request to a judge to bar Courtney Gallion from destroying her online info.
The injunction was granted in a matter of minutes, and in the end both lawyers agreed to exchange passwords for Facebook and dating sites.
Courtney Gallion isn’t happy about giving up personal records.
“My privacy was completely invaded,” she said. “It’s embarrassing to have someone read messages that you thought were private and confidential.”
Savona said Judge Shluger ordered that online information be produced during discovery, but has not yet admitted it as evidence.
It will be interesting to see how this case pans out.