It’s hard to get past just how joyful Keith Hinson and Michelle Knight still look.
The former couple poses close together with ear-to-ear grins for a photo they’ll share moments later on Instagram. It looks like a million other selfies that are posted every day after momentous life events. Weddings, vacations, birthdays, etc.
But in this instance, the couple isn’t standing near some scenic beach. They’re not holding an adorable puppy or kitten or toasting with a refreshing cocktail.
Instead, they’re standing in front of the Clerk of the Court Domestic Relations Office. They’re holding divorce papers, signaling the end of a three-year marriage.
The couple captioned the picture as follows: “We are officially un-married. Here’s to the most friendly, respectful, and loving split imaginable. We smile not because it’s over, but because it happened.”
And with that, the newly-divorced pair sparked a still-growing trend: the divorce selfie.
The dangers associated with social media and divorce have been well-documented. According to Cordell & Cordell Regional Partner and Team Leader Bryan Abercrombie, the subject of social media comes up in literally just about every divorce case.
“In almost every case nowadays we ask for discovery about Facebook timelines,” Mr. Abercrombie said. “Just about every attorney does because there’s just so much information on social media.”
But for the couple that is parting amicably, social media can actually be a useful tool for informing large numbers of friends and family that you’re divorcing while avoiding having to repeat awkward conversations over and over.
“Michelle and I have a good sense of humor about this,” Keith told the Huffington Post. “And we also wanted to let people know that this didn’t have to be a negative experience. We are choosing to move forward with love. We’ve been separated a year, and throughout that time, we’ve both been committed to preserving our friendship.”
Announcing a divorce on social media isn’t for everyone. And it’s doubtful that many couples will be quite as good-natured about the process as Keith and Michelle.
But for those who feel compelled to update their virtual relationship status, here are some tips on how to do so appropriately.
Wait until the divorce is finalized.
More and more, social media updates are being used as evidence in divorce and child custody cases. Tread lightly when posting about your divorce.
It’s probably best to play it safe and wait until everything is final before making the announcement.
Make sure you have the consent of your spouse.
You likely share many of the same friends as your spouse. If you update your status before she is ready to tell her friends and family, it will put her in a very uncomfortable spot and potentially lead to some hard feelings.
Talk with her before sharing the news. See how she wants to let her friends and family know and come to an agreement on the best way to handle this. It’s the last act you’ll make as a couple. You need to try to get this right.
Make the announcement together.
You don’t have to post a quirky photo like Keith and Michelle, but if possible try to craft a message that you and your spouse both agree on to let your friends know you’re parting ways.
The New York Times recently covered the topic of Facebook divorce announcements and provided a great example that Michael Ellsberg and Jena la Flamme shared when they divorced.
“Jena and I are no longer married. This has been a heart-wrenching process for both of us, over the past year, and we are thankful for the support of our friends, family and community in helping us through this. We are on very good terms.”
Keep it short and to the point.
There is no need to dive into personal details about why your marriage didn’t work. Stay focused. Let everyone know what’s going on, that you’re disappointed to see it end, that you’re still working with your ex to raise your kids, and leave it at that.
Sharing too many particulars can be counterproductive and can strain relationships between friends and family members of both sides.