SOCIAL networking sites will become the next tool to be used in divorce proceedings, according to an East Lancashire solicitors.

And Antonia Love, head of family law and partner at Farleys, which has branches in Blackburn, Burnley and Acrington, said that the first "Facebook divorce" is not far away.

She said: "People who use social networking websites to send flirtatious emails to people, who are not their partners, are often lulled into a false sense of security that they are doing nothing wrong because correspondence is electronic and therefore isn't real life'.

"However, even if a physical relationship doesn't occur, electronic communications such as flirtatious emails and conversations can be used in divorce proceedings with the aggrieved party, understandably, citing unreasonable behaviour."

Currently over 13.7 million people regularly use social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, in the UK to make new friends, catch up with existing ones and find old ones.

Antonia added: "Conversations that you believed to be harmless, as your partner was never going to see them, can become very harmful to you if brought up in the divorce court.

"It is probable that electronic evidence will not lead to a huge rise in divorce figures but it may certainly make a lawyer's job easier as people are a lot less careful about what they write in emails than what they write down on paper."

In a recent case involving social networking sites a man, from Newport Pagnell, near Milton Keynes, who had been ordered by magistrates not to contact his estranged wife was jailed for 10 days when he joined Facebook and an automatic "friend request" was sent to everyone on his email contact list, including his ex-wife.

A spokesman for Relate, the counselling service, said that because social networking sites are a new phenomenon it is too early to judge whether they are a problem.