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Social Media Pitfalls in Northern Virginia Family Law Litigation

DiPietro Law Group, PLLC

Social Media Impacting Family Law Litigation

Family law litigation in Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia, whether it involves divorce, custody, modifications of existing situations, or contempt proceedings, has an ever-increasing presence of issues with social media. Hundreds of millions of people engage with social media web sites every day, and a large percentage of them are active users. For example, 23% of Facebook users check their accounts at least five times per day. (Source @HuffingtonPost, 100 Fascinating Social Media Statistics and Figures from 2012) Social media sites are used for networking, keeping in touch with friends, business development, and much more. Using social media sites is fun and seemingly innocuous. However, the potentially dangerous corollary to posting, commenting, and checking-in, is visibility. Northern Virginia and Washington, DC family law cases are governed by legal standards that take into account individual behavior, physical and mental fitness, and, in divorce, the contribution of either party to the breakdown of the marriage. Active users of social media sites are sharing information and creating records that can be used in divorce or custody litigation. The same article referenced above, also reports that approximately 25% of all users do not utilize any privacy controls, and that there are 250 million pictures uploaded to Facebook every day. This adds up to a lot of potential evidence.

How Will Anyone Obtain My Social Media Records?

Northern Virginia family law disputes often result in litigation. “Discovery” is a key phase in litigation. “Discovery” is a process by which both parties have the opportunity to learn information about the other party’s case. Some common discovery methods in Northern Virginia family law cases are depositions, documents obtained by subpoena, forcing an opposing party to answer written questions under oath (also known as interrogatories) and forcing a party to produce documents or other things. The Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia provide the authority for your family law attorney to demand these things from the other party. If the other party refuses, the party that requested the documents can seek a court order for production of the materials, and in some cases request that the non-compliant party be fined. The items, testimony or other statements obtained in this process can be used against witnesses at trial, to create exhibits, and to gauge the relative strength of your case compared to the other party’s case.

Discovery in Northern Virginia divorce and custody litigation is a time-consuming, expensive process. The threat of intrusion into one’s personal life, the financial costs, the potential damage and ongoing contested family law litigation are all potential by-products of the discovery process and serve as catalysts for a settlement prior to trial. Though a judge will have the final word on what can be obtained in this process if there is an objection to producing certain items, be aware that your social media activity history is exposed, and it is very easy to print out activity from your account – sometimes even if it has been deleted.

Why Is It Relevant?

The standard for relevance in Northern Virginia divorce and custody proceedings is: anything that is reasonably calculated to lead to evidence that would be admissible at trial can be obtained in discovery. Divorce, custody and other family law trials in Northern Virginia consist of your family law attorney presenting the evidence for you and making legal arguments to the court on your behalf. The presentation of evidence and argument is geared toward the burdens (as defined by the Virginia Code and appellate case law) you have to meet in order to prevail at trial. The burden you have to meet depends on your family law issue. For example, to prove you are a proper custodian of your child, you have to present evidence that it is in your child’s best interests to reside with you. What “best interests” means and how a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court or a Circuit Court in Northern Virginia would determine what is in your child’s “best interests” is beyond the scope of this post. However, allegations can be proven or disproven by presentation of parts of your social media history. For example, who you associate with, your habits for alcohol consumption, and data that can prove whether or not you are being consistent with your answers to other questions, are all relevant in family law litigation in Northern Virginia.

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