SUNDAY TIMES - Social media driving couples to divorce
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Sunday Times News By AARTI J NARSEE, 2016-02-21

Social media driving couples to divorce

Porn and sexting are increasingly cited in divorce cases.
Image: THINKSTOCK

From the woman who discovered on Facebook that her husband had another family, to the wife who found an online video of her husband dancing with a naked woman, social media are driving South Africans into the arms of divorce lawyers.

"People enter into cyber relationships which become an emotional relationship and a lot of people get caught out talking to someone else via WhatsApp or Facebook," said Cape Town divorce lawyer Bertus Preller.

January and February are known as divorce season, as couples who have spent more time than usual together over the end-of-year holiday realise their relationship has run its course.

N ew figures from Stats SA show a rising divorce trend. In 2014, 24689 couples divorced, 17.7% more than three years earlier. More than half of divorces were initiated by women, and lawyers said social media were often the starting point.

Preller said in one matter he handled, a Cape Town woman discovered on Facebook that her husband, who often travelled to Thailand, had another wife and a four-year-old child there.

Another client discovered her husband's cheating when she read explicit WhatsApp messages on his phone after he passed out drunk.

Another "crazy" story involved a woman who found an online video of her husband dancing with a naked woman on Ibiza off the coast of Spain.

The husband owned a villa on the island and his friend filmed him at a party.

"A lot of the issues are on Facebook, where the mistress is part of the friends list and the wife has some suspicion and she starts digging, browsing through the wall and seeing all the 'likes'. That plays quite a big role," said Preller.

Durban divorce attorney Shanel Singh said social media relationships developed rapidly. "People are willing to give up a marriage of 17 years when they know someone over Facebook for a period of three months. They meet on social media and get married very quickly."

Sexting and pornography and dating sites also cropped up frequently in divorce cases, said Johannesburg attorney Roy Bergman.

"I see a lot of clients who get bored, go online for sex. Ease of access to pornography has an influence. One client complained about her husband being a sex addict," said Bergman.

Spouses go to extreme lengths to spy on their partners if they suspect cheating, experts said, including using lie detectors, tracking devices and spyware on cellphones.

Anri van den Berg, a Pretoria relationship counsellor, said many couples were not prepared to work on their marriages. "We are living in a time where if something is broken you don't fix it, you throw it away," she said.

"It is very easy to start up friendly conversations, easy to find someone's number online. A lot of infidelity starts online or stays online because it feels anonymous."

Cape Town counsellor Janet Winterbourne said lack of time for each other was one of the biggest reasons for marriage breakdowns.

"We become completely absorbed in social media, detaching from our partners. Social media opens up a whole new world to reconnect with old flames, even consider flirtatious chats."