Susan Guthrie has lived it, so she gets it. A 31-year veteran of the divorce world, Susan has earned her stripes firsthand, through her own divorce, and second hand, by helping others get divorced. Susan is here speaking about social media and how what you post can come back to haunt you in court and beyond.
- A picture is worth a thousand words, and those words won’t always be a good story. If your content is available to the world at large, your ex will find it and use it against you.
- Social media is a huge part of our lives now, and it’s hard to escape it, but if your goal is to be finished with your ex and move on with your life, these are the small sacrifices that you have to make.
OUR GUEST – SUSAN GUTHRIE – THE DIVORCE & BEYOND PODCAST
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
T.H.: Welcome, everybody, to today’s podcast. I’m thrilled to have Susan Guthrie here today. She’s a family law attorney and mediator, and I found her by listening to the Divorce and Beyond podcast. Welcome to the exEXPERTS podcast today.
Susan: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here.
T.H.: For everybody, Jessica is not able to be on our podcast today, so I’m flying solo, but I’m going to do my best to represent. Let’s start from where you want to start. You’re a family law attorney, and you have your own personal story and this awesome podcast for connecting with people. How did this start? What was the light bulb that went off that said, you know what, there is a missed opportunity here, and people need me in another way?
Susan: Yeah, I love starting with that question because as a 30 plus year veteran of the divorce world, I would say, I think my journey is much like the journey of the public at large. I started out thinking 31 years ago that divorce had to be a certain way, right? It had to be the litigated attorney-led process. I was the attorney, and I was the one helping people in that way. My husband always calls it a freedom fighter position. But I learned over time, as I watched people go through the process, and then I went through the process, and then I met someone, my current husband who went through the process with children, my evolution is the same in many ways as I’ve learned there are better ways to do it than that litigation model. My whole goal these days with the podcast, with talking to other people, with everything that I do, is to let people know that there’s a better way for many of us. It all comes down to that self-determination, as opposed to putting your life in the hands of someone else and expecting that the process will make determinations for you. Stay in control, hang on to your vision of your life, because it is your life, and the decisions that you make are going to affect it.
T.H.: It’s really scary. Did you litigate your divorce?
Susan: I didn’t litigate it, but I did hire one of my colleagues and friends. I was smart enough not to say, oh, hey, I’m a divorce attorney, I’ll handle my own divorce. But I still did what I just said, don’t do. I put my process in someone else’s hands and learned a lot through that process because it ended up taking longer and being a little more difficult than it really needed to be. I fell into, and by the way, I don’t want any of your listeners to think I didn’t fall into every trap that I now try to help people avoid. I fell into the anger, I fell into the emotional content, I went through and did all the don’ts that I want to help people not to.
T.H.: I feel like I litigated because I was heading to trial. We mediated and we had a panel of lawyers and all this other stuff, it only takes one person to drag you in a bad direction. You need both sides, and the lawyers, by the way, to say okay, we can handle this in a better way, just like you’re saying. What do you do in a situation where, like, I was married to a ‘loose cannon, and his lawyer was the same thing? And my lawyer wasn’t much better, so the three of them were dragging me through. On the day of trial, four years later, he decides to settle. Like, really?
Susan: [Laughs] you could have done this at any other time!
T.H.: Right, if you thought you were going to settle today, why did we go through all of this? What are you telling people now who get dragged into it? Because nobody, I don’t believe anybody really wants to litigate. I believe that people just want what they want, and feel that maybe litigation is the only way to get there, but that’s not really the case, right?
Susan: It’s not and unfortunately, yes, you’re 100% correct. Things like mediation, collaborative law, sitting down at the kitchen table and working it out like reasonable human beings, all take two people to step up to that table. Part of it I think, though, goes before that even becomes the decision. One of the things I try to do so much these days is to talk to the public at large, to the people who are not yet there, or who don’t even need the information as they sit there and hear me speak today. It was interesting somebody just reached out to me the other day and said, I heard you speak about divorce mediation five years ago at the La Jolla Rotary Club, and I just wanted you to know five years later, what I heard that day changed the course of the divorce for my wife and me. I so appreciated that person reaching out, because that’s exactly what I hope for people, that in a moment of clarity and calmness, they can hear the information so when they’re later in a time of upset or upheaval, they will remember that there can be that better way. Because what happens, and I think you touched on it is people in the heat of the moment, in the time of upset anger, hurt, fear, whatever those things are, that’s when they think litigation sounds like a good idea. It sounds like a punishment, it sounds like a way to beat up the other party and get back that pound of flesh that you feel you’ve lost. As you know, and I know, that doesn’t happen, and that’s not what you get in the litigation process. I think it goes to I always call it giving everyone that moment of time to calm down at the beginning of the divorce. It’s when you jump in and do things in the heat of the emotional content, that the biggest mistakes are made. I always say take a pause.
T.H.: Let’s talk about how social media also plays into this. You can be mad, angry, vindictive, whatever, but then when you broadcast that on social media, it’s a disaster.
I mean, I feel like I’m definitely aging myself by saying that I first went on Facebook after I separated, but that was during my divorce process, but I was new to all of it. What is your top do’s and don’ts, and what is the purpose of social media that can help you in divorce and can really hurt you in divorce?
Susan: It’s such an important topic. I’m so glad you’re touching on this because there are dos and there are very definite don’ts. The dos are I really feel like there’s a great amount of valuable information in the social media stratosphere for when you’re going through a divorce or any difficult transition. There are people like you, me, and a myriad of our other professional compatriots outputting really good content. For the absorption of information for educating yourself, there’s a vast wealth out there for you. But the flip side of it is the big don’t. That is where you use social media as an outlet for your anger, frustration, emotional content, etc because that’s all going to, excuse my French, come back and bite you in the ass. It will. It’s available to the world at large, and trust me, your spouse is going to find that. I’ve been in court more times than I can count where a blow-up of your nastygram about your ex is held up in a photo. I’ve had pictures of one of my clients sitting on a yacht with his blonde girlfriend with the bottle of champagne, sitting in his lap, when he was trying to reduce his alimony payments. I mean, I’ve had it all.
T.H.: She was paying, right? She was paying the bill.
Susan: Yeah, oh, that’s exactly what he said. And by the way, the boat was his brand new boat that he had named after the girlfriend. It was a disaster in a courtroom. Let me tell you, I was not the happy attorney.
T.H.: Was he your client?
Susan: It was my client, and his ex-wife had gotten all the pictures. Here’s the other thing to know. That story is a lesson to be learned. In that particular case, the ex-wife had gone on and her daughter had friended the girlfriend on Facebook. And so the husband was like, well, I didn’t post it. My girlfriend posted it. I was like, trust me, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the one posting or someone near and dear to you, or not even that near and dear. If it’s on social media, someone’s going to find it and someone’s going to use it against you.
T.H.: So what do they do? Don’t take any photographs with anybody while you’re getting a divorce?
Susan: Yeah, don’t. Let the people closest to you know that going Instagram official right now is not what’s important. If your new significant other is really heavy into I really need to get us out there on social media, one, I want you to think about what that says in the first place. Why is that so important? But also, you just have to curate your life when you are going through a divorce. You are under a microscope the entire time. With the world we live in today, I just had a case where somebody’s Ring doorbell video was used in court against them because they showed up at the door and were belligerent and nasty in front of the children at a pickup. The Ring doorbell video is what was used. I mean, you are under that microscope 24/7 right now, and it’s not your friend. We don’t always behave or put out the most flattering view of ourselves, and it can come back to hurt you. It really can.
T.H.: Well, it is a little nerve-wracking I would think also because social media is such a huge part of our lives now, and now, to think you’re on lockdown. And look, if your goal is to be finished with your ex and move on with your life, these are the small sacrifices that we have to make. I have a lot of friends who aren’t on Facebook who are happily married just because they don’t want to deal with it. I feel like you just have to put on a different mindset here. It’s not like you’re being told what not to do. It’s a blip on the radar. It’s a small amount of time in your life for a better outcome overall, right?
Susan: Yeah, and it’s not that you can’t participate in social media. Feel free to go on there and post innocuous pictures of you and your kids having a nice time, perhaps okay. But the ex-bashing and the nasty comments and the things that might come back to contradict the viewpoint of your lifestyle that you’re putting out there is a case, those are things to think about. The other place that I really get concerned for people in social media is that there can be that tendency to use it as an outlet for your negativity and your emotional content. Other people will jump on and bolster that so it can also be a place where a victim mentality or a negative perspective can, unfortunately, be reinforced and perpetuated when it’s not really helpful to you.
T.H.: What about all those hidden accounts? People make up a fake Facebook account or fake Instagram. I know that my children have Finsta. I’m just going off the limited knowledge I have about all the ways my kids post on social media that I’m not fully aware of. So what about those? I mean, how do you track people down with those? Are they tracked down with those kinds of accounts?
Susan: They are. I mean, absolutely. First of all, in a legal case, if you are in a divorce and there’s a legal action pending, understand that everything is discoverable very easily, and it’s a part of our standard interrogatory questions under oath that we send to people: What are your Instagram and what are your social media accounts? List all of them in the space below. And so under oath, you’re now going to answer that question. If you have a Finsta or a fake Facebook, a truthful answer would include those. So right there, they’re discoverable. Again, if you need to get something out, for now, you’re better off journaling it in a private written journal than making it in an electronic resource.
T.H.: Yeah, I feel like ego gets in the way a lot too probably with your client. He probably felt like a stallion. You’ve got a hot little blonde thing, he’s on a boat, and he’s living his best life. And why can’t he live his best life? Because if you’re asking and you’re saying I only make this much money, I can only pay this much money, but you’re living that other kind of life, you have to know that doesn’t work so well in court.
Susan: Yeah, and it didn’t by the way. It really did not go in his favor. The judge not only didn’t lower his alimony, but he also raised it. It was a total bite you in the rear end moment, and for him, it was just being in that moment. He really didn’t think that his ex-wife would get hold of his girlfriend’s account. He should have known better. I think it goes to that suspend the moment of gratification you get by putting something out there in the social media world and think longer term, think longer view. Think about the emotional aspect of that. I really caution people, if you’re getting that much positive feedback through your phone, maybe that says something that you should be looking at too.
T.H.: Right. Right, what about when you’re mediating and it’s not going in front of a judge, what are your recommendations was social media, the same thing?
Susan: Sure. Because you can be sitting there in mediation and have your spouse hold up their phone and go, what about this? That’s how people find things out for the most part. If you are going to go take a nice weekend away, and then come to a mediation session and have a discussion with your soon to be ex-spouse about finances, don’t be surprised when they say, well, you just went to the Ritz Carlton resort for a weekend and it looks like you had some really nice dinners and a spa day, because you posted all about it. Don’t be surprised when that comes up if you put that all out there.
T.H.: What platforms other than Facebook and Instagram should people also be mindful of? When I say social media, I just mean anything public, and you just mentioned the Ring camera. What are all the places that people are posting and sharing information, and maybe they shouldn’t be, that you can think of?
Susan: It’s really anywhere. It’s LinkedIn, if you work for a company that’s putting out notices, and they put something out about your big promotion, just know that that’s now a part of the public domain that’s going to be out there. When you post something on LinkedIn about that big deal that you just closed, make sure you understand that that’s all discoverable, easily discoverable information. TikTok accounts, Snapchat accounts, and Pinterest accounts, you name it. If you’re putting it out there, don’t be surprised to see it come back on a screen capture for you. It’s just too easy for people to find things and they live forever. It is one of the biggest myths out there that you can wipe out your videos or–really, once it’s out there, it’s always out there.
T.H.: And that applies to Snapchat too because I believe I had a situation with one of my daughters, I was only looking down–sometimes when I look away I think better. She said that it disappears on Snapchat, but now there’s a feature that you can record what’s on Snapchat, right? There is a way.
Susan: Yeah. And there’s always the screen capture. Yes, it tells them that you took a screenshot of it, but that doesn’t mean you can do anything about it.
T.H.: So is the recommendation really just shut down social media and don’t even be tempted by it until your divorce is over?
Susan: Yes, I mean, that’s what I say to all of my clients is just take the higher road with it, then you never have to worry. I don’t say stay off of it. You can still find really valuable content that will help you, and help you find experts, and help you find professionals who can help you. A lot of the fantastic divorce coaches I know, and the podcasts that are out there, all of that is out there on social media to help you find those resources. But that doesn’t mean that you then have to interact or post about your particular situation. A lot of people will find an account on social that they like and will post questions right in the comments about their personal case.
T.H.: You get that a lot on Facebook groups. Honestly, it’s unbelievable to me. Even though it’s a private group, it’s private for what, 40,000 people? All you have to do is answer four questions and you can totally lie in those questions and join the group.
Susan: Yeah, and because people feel like they’re behind some sort of protected wall, they let even more personal data come through and can be very negative about their ex. And very often, exes, figure out a way to get in there by answering four questions with a lie and coming up with a fake persona. I’ve seen those comments used in courtrooms.
T.H.: And then people, I feel only by reading some of the exchanges I’ve seen, they listen to the responses. Sometimes I’m reading and I’m like, this is a problem. Call your lawyer! I feel like I have to interject. This is out of control. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You don’t even know this person. You don’t think about her life, or him, or her anything, and you’re giving advice. I mean, and she’s listening. I think that’s also a really big red flag about some of these groups on social media. It’s just like, I’m sure you’ve told many people, and I kind of learned the hard way, but I had my best friend Jessica going through my divorce, everyone’s got an opinion. Everybody’s got advice. Everybody knows the answer, right? They don’t know anything. They don’t know anything about you, your situation, and what goes on behind closed doors. You can’t let that chirping egg you on. I feel social media also encourages that and then you walk in, you’re going to sound potentially like a loose cannon or an idiot. If I walk into your offices, and I’m like, I was told that you should be doing X, Y, and Z by some stranger on a Facebook group of 40,000 people. Do you ever get that?
Susan: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I heard from so-and-so. It used to be, I heard from my friend that she’s getting $40,000 a month in alimony. Why am I not getting $40,000 a month in alimony? But now it’s, I heard from some complete stranger who has lovingthedelta.com who told me she’s getting $400,000 a month. And yes, it’s a big danger, and that goes back to that aspect of anybody can put anything out there. There’s an entire community around support, but a lot of times that support will only support you in a negative way and not a positive way. I think people mean the best, but what they’ll put out there is their reference. Just because their ex is a jerk doesn’t mean that your ex is a jerk. Just because this is what happened in their case certainly does not mean that’s what’s going to happen in your case. I was talking to Kate Anthony, my friend last night, who has the Divorce Survival–
T.H.: The author?
Susan: Yeah, you guys actually came up in our conversation, and we were saying you guys are awesome. Kate has a private Facebook community, Should I Stay or Should I Go community, and she curates it and monitors it constantly. That is if you’re going to get into a private Facebook group, get into one like that where there’s someone who is in charge and will call people when they start doing things like that. She’ll tag me sometimes and say, Susan, this is a legal question. Can you weigh in on this? Or she’ll weigh in when it comes to coaching or communication. It’s just you want that type of oversight. You don’t want unfettered access because god knows what people are going to tell you.
T.H.: Right. In exEXPERTS, what we’re trying to do, or what’s one of our goals and purpose is to really provide our listeners with vetted resources, whether it’s yourself, Kate Anthony, Michelle Dempsey, all these amazing lawyers, and experts everywhere because when you go online anyway and you Google, you don’t know who the hell they are. You don’t know the qualifications. They could be scammers for all you know, and that’s the last thing you need when you’re going through a divorce. Really make sure you do your homework before you put your information out there, and always be smart and think about it. Do a gut check. Does this really sound like–it’s like you could win a million dollars if you respond to this email today. Like, does that really sound reasonable? You need a gut check once in a while.
Okay, so now what about the other side of it? What about people who create a false personality on Facebook? I’m living in this tiny little house. This is my bare-bones living. This is whatever that they’re putting out there. It’s not representative of the truth. So how do you get those people? They’ve got to be out there because there are posers everywhere.
Susan: Yeah, I mean, it’s not so hard to disprove that, right? I mean, because it’s not hard to find us. You could put out a picture of a little teeny hovel that you say you’re living in when you’re actually living in a beautiful home on the hill. A private investigator, a Google search for your address, if anyone wonders if your address is easily found, go Google yourself some time. Every address I’ve ever lived at is out there on the internet. That creation of a false identity or that false persona, you’re only attacking your own credibility, because we always tell people, if you put something out there that’s not true, in the world we live in today, disproving that is easier than ever. The minute you create something that can be disproven, you then throw your credibility with the court and with everybody else you’re dealing with, into doubt, permanently. Lie once, lose credibility forever. I’ve seen the devastating effects of it in litigated cases and in mediation. When you sit down at the table with your ex and try to start working forward, but you’ve lied, think about how hard it is to recreate trust in those situations.
T.H.: Yeah, you’re probably going to spend a lot more money showing that the other person lied. I mean, depositions and experts. It’s not a good place to be just from my personal experience, not as an attorney, not as a coach, just tell the truth. Even if it’s good, bad, and ugly, just move on with your life. That’s ultimately the goal to just put this behind you as well as you can, as thoughtfully in terms of finance, and your children and everybody else. You’ve got a whole big life ahead of you.
Susan: Yeah, I always tell people, divorce is a finite time in your life. It feels all-encompassing, and it feels like forever, but it’s really this little tiny blip on the radar of your entire life. Get beyond it. The biggest gift you can give to yourself is getting your divorce over with. That extra $1,000 that you’re arguing over will mean nothing a year from now.
T.H.: I actually posted on our Instagram, not that long ago, I had just sold the home that I moved to when I separated and basically raised my children in for the last 13 years. They were eight, six, and four when we moved in, and they’re 21, 20, and 17 now. I took all the furniture when we separated because we were in transition. It was all in storage and I took it all and this stupid couch that I spent so much money on in our first home. My advice on my Instagram story was to give him the couch, give him the electronics, because now I had to pay someone to haul that thing out of my basement to the driveway, and then pay someone else to pick it up and trash it. Go get your own stuff. Enjoy your own. Let him have it all. Let him sell it all. Let him deal with it all. Start fresh. So is that the one piece of advice you’d like our audience to know?
Susan: As a matter of fact, absolutely. It is. The phrase I use is your peace of mind has a dollar sign attached to it, and only you know what it is. Your peace of mind comes when your divorce is finalized. When you put these decisions over a couch, or over a television set, or over 15 minutes of drop off or pick up, when you can put that out of your life and move forward, that is your gift. I always tell people who say to me, why can’t my divorce end? Why is it just going on and on? He always argues with me or she won’t accept anything I offer. I always say, just flip that around and look at what are you holding out for? Is it really worth it because so often it’s that couch that you really don’t care about when it comes down?
T.H.: I honestly didn’t even think about it at the time. I was just like I’m taking everything. And here I am hauling this thing out. Well, thank you so much, Susan. It was a pleasure to talk to you and get your input. Everybody, please listen to what she has to say about social media so you don’t get caught up in a bad situation.
Susan: No, thank you so much for having me. It’s such an important topic.
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