For most people using Facebook is a harmless way to keep in touch with friends and family by sending messages and posting pictures.
But the site is becoming a major factor in marriage breakdowns as spouses get caught sending flirtatious messages and posing in incriminating photos.
According to one firm of lawyers, over a third of the divorce petitions it deals with cite Facebook as a factor.
Nasty surprise: A third of the 5,000 petitions filed with Divorce-Online in the past year mentioned Facebook
Mark Keenan, managing director of Divorce-Online said: ‘Facebook has become the primary method for communicating with friends for many people and has taken over from text and e-mail.
‘We are seeing the same thing as what happened with Friends Reunited. People contact ex-partners and the messages start as innocent, but lead to trouble.
‘If someone wants to have an affair or flirt with the opposite sex then it’s the easiest place to do it.’
The law firm said that it has seen a 50 per cent jump in the number of behaviour petitions that contained the word ‘Facebook’ in the last two years.
Some 33 per cent of the 5,000 petitions filed with the firm in the past year mentioned the social networking site.
The most common reasons for Facebook causing problems in relationships is when a spouse finds flirty messages or photos that show their partner at a party they did not know about or with a person they should not be with.
Anne-Marie Hutchinson, at Dawson Cornwell Solicitors, said: ‘It is less often what the cheating partner puts on Facebook that gets them into trouble, but what their friends do. There have been cases where someone has seen photos or posts about their husbands or wives on another friend’s page.
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‘There was one woman who read on a
friend’s Facebook page that her husband had been to a lap dancing club,
and she obviously was not happy. If you are keeping things from your
partner, Facebook makes it so much easier for them to find out.’
She added that the site can be used
of evidence of unreasonable behaviour in divorce cases. ‘If you are
complaining that they have a drinking problem and they have posted
statuses about going out on the razzle and having heavy nights, that
could be used,’ she said.
Messages written about spouses after couples have separated are also increasingly being used as weapons in divorce battles though.
Mr Keenan said that he warned his clients to keep of Facebook while going through divorce proceedings because of the problems it causes.
He said: ‘You see two sides of a couple battling out their divorce in public on Facebook. People make allegations about their husbands not paying maintenance or not picking up their children.
‘If you are keeping things from your partner, Facebook makes it so much easier for them to find out’
‘People need to be careful what they put on Facebook as the courts are now seeing a lot more evidence being introduced from people’s walls and posts in disputes over finances and children.’
In Britain, more than 30 million people – almost half the population – log on to Facebook each month.
Marianna Gini, 33, a housing support worker and mother-of-one, was married for six years before she found out through Facebook that her husband Robert, 35, was having an affair.
She became suspicious about messages on his profile page from a woman she had not heard of. They divorced after her husband’s mistress sent her a message on the site telling her he was having an affair.
Sarah Picket, 37, a housewife from Oldham and mother-of-three, was married to taxi driver Chris, also 37, until her Facebook flirtations led to divorce.
She did not have an affair but said she became addicted to the site and sending messages to former boyfriends. They split after her husband discovered the messages and she refused to leave the site.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown that the divorce rate in Britain increased last year for the first time in eight years. There were 119,589 official separations in 2010, up from 113,949 in 2009.