Author: Ron Kauffman

Family Law Trial by Combat

Motion calendars in family court can be dull affairs involving discovery disputes and defaults. In a twist, a Kansas man asked a judge to grant him a rare motion, he wants to resolve his family law case in a trial by combat.

Trial by Combat

Extreme Family Law

David Ostrom, 40, of Paola, Kansas, claims in court documents that his ex-wife, Bridgette Ostrom, 38, destroyed him legally in their lengthy divorce. Now he wants to end his family case in a duel known to Game of Thrones fans as a trial by combat.

He also asked the Iowa District Court in Shelby County to give him 12 weeks “lead time” to source or forge Japanese samurai swords such as the katana and wakizashi swords.

Florida Family Law Trials

I’ve written about family law issues before, especially trials. Let’s face it, a typical family law trial can be a little boring. The trial in a divorce is when spouses and their lawyers square off in court because they could not come to an agreement on some or all of the issues. At that point, the parties need to have a judge make the final call.

A trial (not one by combat) works similarly to how they are portrayed on TV and in the movies. Attorneys from both sides will present an opening statement, witnesses will be called and cross-examined, evidence will be introduced, and at the end, both attorneys will give closing arguments.

In some cases, the judge is able to make a ruling at the trial on all of the issues presented. More often, the judge will spend time reviewing the testimony and evidence and render a decision for the case.

The lawyers typically leave their Japanese swords at the office.

Divorce Superbowl

With Superbowl LIV upon us, maybe people feel it’s time to take another look at trial by combat? To this day, trial by combat has never been explicitly banned or restricted as a right in the United States, in fact it was used as recently as 1818 in Britain.

Traditionally, trial by combat was a method under law to settle accusations in the absence of witnesses or a confession. The two parties in dispute fought in single combat. The winner of the fight was proclaimed to be right.

“It should be noted that just because the U.S. constitution does not specifically prohibit battling another person with a deadly katana sword, it does prohibit a court sitting in equity from ordering same.

Ostrom said his motion stemmed from his frustrations with his ex-wife’s attorney. “I think I’ve met Mr. Hudson’s absurdity with my own absurdity,” he said. Ostrom said his ex-wife can choose her attorney as a “champion,” or stand-in fighter.

Hudson filed a response to the trial-by-combat motion by first correcting Ostrom’s spelling and then argued that because a duel could end in death, such ramifications probably outweigh those of property tax and custody issues.

Hudson asked the court to suspend Ostrom’s visitation rights and order him to undergo a court-ordered psychological evaluation.

“Respondent and counsel have proven themselves to be cravens by refusing to answer the call to battle, thus they should lose this motion by default.”

The court did not rule on either party’s motions.

Kansas City Fox4kc has the article here.

 

Speaking at the Family Courthouse

What an honor to speak at the Family Division Courthouse Lunch & Learn series, co-hosted by Family Court Services and the First Family Law Inn of Court. The discussion, attended by family law attorneys judicial officers, and professionals, was on the new technological changes that impact everyone in family court, in addition to the annual Town Hall presented by the Honorable Judge Scott Bernstein.

Family Law

Family Law Technology

Technology is constantly changing our lives, and may times for the better! The Eleventh Judicial Circuit is rolling out “courtMAP” this month. CourtMap is a new online Management and Access Platform that combines eCourtesy with online scheduling, online notification/confirmation, and allows judges to create and e-File orders. courtMAP also allows parties to self-schedule their case events – motion calendar, special sets, and trials – and attach the documentation previously submitted via eCourtesy.

Family Court Services and Kidside

KidSide, Inc., has been developed to raise and secure funds to provide the best possible services and facilities to the children of Miami-Dade County who have suffered through the conflict of their parents’ divorce or other litigation in the Family and Domestic Violence Courts. By working with Family Court Services, a unit of the Miami-Dade County Eleventh Circuit Court, Family Division, KidSide strives to ensure that the best interests of the children are considered by parents and the Court.

More information about Kidside is available here.

 

Another Case of Fraud and Divorce

A 77-year old Tampa businessman filed to divorce his 26-year-old wife who may have tried to steal $1,000,000.00 from him. Is this yet another case of divorce fraud, and if so, what can be done? The Husband’s divorce attorneys at Sessums Black Caballero Ficarrotta will have to find out.

Divorce Fraud 3

A Tampa Bay Buccaneer

Court records show that 77-year old Richard Rappaport’s attorney filed an action for dissolution of marriage against his 26-year old wife, Lin Halfon, on Friday, Jan. 10. The couple was married in Sarasota in August.

Halfon won’t have an easy time getting to divorce court because she’s been incarcerated for a month at the Hillsborough County Jail on Falkenburg Road.

She is facing charges of money laundering, organized fraud, exploitation of the elderly and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

His wife, Ms. Halfon, has been charged with money-laundering, organized fraud and exploitation of an elderly person after being arrested at Tampa international airport in Florida.

Florida Divorce Fraud

I’ve written about various aspects of divorce fraud before. In Florida, courts distribute the marital assets, such as bank accounts, between parties under the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution.

Some of the factors to justify an unequal distribution of the property include things like the financial situation the parties, the length of the marriage, whether someone has interrupted their career or an educational opportunity, or how much one spouse contributed to the other’s career or education.

Another important factor is whether one of the parties intentionally dissipated, wasted, depleted, or destroyed any of the marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.

Dissipation of marital assets, such as taking money from a joint bank account, happens a lot. Trying to cash a million dollar check at a payday loan store . . . less so. In both cases, the misconduct may serve as a basis for assigning the dissipated asset to the spending spouse when calculating equitable distribution.

Misconduct, for purposes of dissipation, does not mean mismanagement or simple squandering of marital assets in a manner of which the other spouse disapproves. There has to be evidence of intentional dissipation or destruction.

When it’s Friday and Payday!

This divorce fraud case may also get entered into the world’s dumbest criminal’s museum. She’ll join a trio of drug thieves who broke into a Florida home, snorted the contents of three jars – which were in fact urns – only to discovery they’d inhaled the remains of two cherished dogs.

The Wife went to a payday loan company called, Amscot, and tried to cash a $1 million check with both of their names on it. Court documents said Rappaport’s wife returned to the bank with three checks in the amount of $333,000. The police investigation began after an employee refused to cash the checks.

After being notified by investigators, Rappaport said he wanted to give his new wife the benefit of the doubt and did not want her to be deported. When asked later if he felt he was the victim of fraud, Rappaport told investigators, “yes.”.

The Wife’s defense attorney Todd Foster said he plans to file motions asking for bond and evidentiary hearings and asked:

“Can a wife steal from her husband? Is that a crime? We’re looking at that.”

Rappaport’s daughter said in an arrest affidavit that his family members were unaware of the marriage and believed Halfon was ‘conning’ Rappaport due to his age” according to the arrest affidavit.

The Wife’s attorney claims it “was a valid marriage” and that they loved each other.

Tampa’s Channel 8 article is here.

Did Your Promotion Cause Your Divorce?

Does a promotion to a top job increase your likelihood of divorce? Two Swedish professors researched that issue, and found that a promotion to a top job doubled the probability of divorce for women . . . but not so much for men.

Sweden Divorce

Divorce Stockholm Syndrome

The professors also found that there was a widening gender gap in divorce rates for men and women after being promoted to CEO. Their analysis of possible mechanisms may show that divorces are concentrated in more gender-traditional couples, while women in more gender-equal couples are unaffected.

No one doubts that the economic and social roles of men and women have been converging in recent decades. Women in Western democracies have largely caught up with men in terms of labor force participation, tertiary education, and career expectations.

But what lags behind is women’s realization of those career goals. In 2015, men accounted for 95% of CEOs in Forbes 500 firms and more than 75% of the world’s parliamentarians.

The professors argued that one potential reason for women’s slower career progressions is that a job promotion for a woman causes more stress and strain on the household than the job promotion of a man.

They also offer the first empirical analysis of how the promotion to a top job in the economy affects the marriage durability of men and women. They found that a promotion to a top job leads to an increased rate of divorce among women, but not among men.

Florida Divorce

I have written about some of the various reasons why people divorce in the past: snoring, calling the bride “fat” at the wedding and others. In Florida, a divorce is called a “dissolution of marriage.” Florida abolished fault as a ground for dissolution of marriage. The only requirement to dissolve a marriage is for one of the parties to prove that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Either spouse can file for the dissolution of marriage. Generally, you have to prove that your marriage exists, one of the spouse’s has been a Florida resident for six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition, and the marriage is irretrievably broken.

The reason for the irretrievable breakdown, however, may be considered under certain limited circumstances in the determination of alimony, equitable distribution of marital assets and debts, and the development of the parenting plan.

Every case is different, so results can differ from case to case. Outcomes in a divorce include, among other things, dividing the assets and debts, an award of alimony, determining the amount of child support, and parental responsibility and time-sharing schedules. There is no “one-size-fits-all” or “standard” dissolution of marriage in Florida.

Divorce can be highly emotional for couples and their children. But was your promotion to CEO the cause of all of this trauma?

Relationship Fjords

The professors’ analysis was carried out using Swedish register data and targets promotions to three types of top jobs. Two of the jobs are top public sector jobs, and the third type was in the private sector: CEOs of companies with more than 100 employees.

The analysis linked the divorce impact of the promotion to couples for which the woman’s promotion to a top job conflicted with gender-traditional behavior in the household.

Divorces are more likely to occur when the wife is younger than her husband by a greater margin, and where she took a larger share of the couple’s total parental leave.

Another important finding was a large gender difference in the correlation between the probability of a divorce and experiencing a promotion that shifts earnings from dual-earner into the woman becoming the dominant earner.

Among women whose promotions make them the dominant earner, i.e. making more than 60% of household income, more than 15% divorced within three years after the promotion. In the corresponding group for men, only 3% had divorced.

Some of the problems with the study included the fact that there is no register for which spouse initiated the divorce, there is no good annual measure of the division of household work, and Sweden does not measure cohabitation accurately.

So, if job promotion causes divorce among women, is that a good thing or a bad thing? The professors argue that the implications for society are largely negative because human talent for top positions is evenly distributed among men and women and the vast majority of men and women put “family” at the top of their list of priorities for life satisfaction.

An abstract is available here.

 

Is January Really Divorce Month?

January is usually reserved for kicking bad habits and beginning work on those New Year’s resolutions. But some parts of the internet, this blog included, have suggested that January has earned it’s nickname as “divorce month.” Is there truth to it? The New York Times recently investigated.

divorce january

‘Tis the Season?

There is no doubt that divorce is a seasonal phenomenon. From Thanksgiving until New Year’s, lawyers’ offices can slow down with new filings because people have decided to put off until after the holidays their decisions to separate.

A Google trends search for “divorce last year returned that it was – ever so slightly – most popular from January 6th to January 12th. The term has peaked at various times though, from March and September too!

A 2016 study by the University of Washington analyzed divorce filings in Washington state from 2001 to 2015 and found they peaked in March and August, following the winter and summer holidays.

Florida No-fault Divorce

Divorce rates started to increase in the 1970s when baby boomers started divorcing at higher rates and the introduction of no-fault divorce laws.

I’ve written about no fault divorce before. No-fault laws are the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. In Florida no fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or unreasonable behavior as in England.

The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Additionally, the mental incapacity of one of the parties, where the party was adjudged incapacitated for the prior three year, is another avenue.

Adultery can be the cause of a divorce, but can it impact the outcome? Since Florida became a no-fault state, the fact that, “she (or he) is sleeping with a co-worker” doesn’t hold much traction in court any more.

Some states still have fault-based divorce, and some of the common fault-based grounds for divorce are adultery, desertion, extreme cruelty, incarceration for conviction of a crime, institutionalization for mental illness, and a spouse’s continued abuse of drugs or alcohol.

New Year’s Resolution?

Not everyone thinks January is divorce month. Some people think it is a perception of the end of the year slow-down, and that the comparison makes it appear to be a big month for filing.

However, divorce timelines can also be impacted by state. In Georgia, divorces can be granted in as little as one month, or could take years. In California, there is a mandatory six-month waiting period for a divorce to be finalized.

When you file for divorce, you may impact everything financial including taxes. Your marital status on the last day of the year can determine how you file your taxes. If a state has a rule regarding your filing status and separation, that could be a reason for a January filing.

Responsibilities for children, lack of romance, incompatibility and money problems are all big drivers of divorce. Many people feel there is an uptick in divorce filing around anniversaries and Valentine’s Day too. The answer to the question “is January really divorce month?” is, maybe.

The New York Times article is here.

 

International Academy of Family Lawyers

I am honored to announce my admission as a Fellow in the International Academy of Family Lawyers. The International Academy of Family Lawyers is a worldwide association of practicing lawyers who are recognized by their peers as the most experienced and expert family law specialists in their respective countries.

IAFL

International family law has become predominant in our work as our firm increasingly focuses on complex divorce and jurisdictional issues, interstate and international family law, child relocation, and Hague international child abduction cases.

The primary objective of the IAFL is to improve international family law practice throughout the world. It pursues that objective in a number of ways: creating a network of expertise in international family law around the world providing its fellows with information about both international and national developments in the law; offering advice and assistance to the wider public; promoting law reform and, where possible, harmonization of law.

Fellowship into the IAFL is by invitation only. The process is a rigorous one, designed to ensure that the high level of expertise within IAFL is maintained. Membership has grown steadily, and the number of countries now represented is 60 and IAFL has over 860 Fellows.

More information about the IAFL is available from their website here.

 

New Year Divorce Surge

Market Watch is reporting on a consistent pattern: divorce filings surge in January as people decide to start their New Year with a clean slate, helped by a stressful holiday period and, perhaps, even more stressful in-laws.

NYE Divorce

Happy New You

In general, many family lawyers report a rise of nearly one-third in business in the New Year. The president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, says he typically sees a spike of 25% to 30% every year in January.

That’s not only true for the United States, but around the world. Similar trends are seen in the U.K.: one in five couples plan to divorce after the holidays, according to one survey of 2,000 spouses by legal firm Irwin Mitchell.

Being cooped up in a house for several days when a marriage is experiencing serious problems — while dealing with the pressure to put on a happy face for the kids and visiting relatives — takes its toll on the most stoic of couples.

Holiday time is usually a time when we get a spike in consultations and in being retained by clients. Holiday time is usually fraught with a lot of tension, emotion and financial issues, which is usually the trigger.

Florida Divorce

I’ve written about the rise in new years divorce filings, and many times the holiday season can highlight problems. What should you do? Whatever the reason for your problems, there are a few things that anyone looking into divorce for the first time needs to know to help them through the process.

Prioritize

Line up your priorities for life after the divorce. Is it finding a home? Is it retiring? Getting a job? Managing your special-needs child? Consider writing down your most important goals.

Consult

Even if you aren’t certain you need to hire an attorney, or filing for divorce at all, it is a good idea to meet with an expert in Florida’s divorce and family laws. Who better than someone certified by Florida as an expert in marital and family law? We offer free consultations, but even when there is a charge, it is well worth the fee to get accurate information.

Alternatives

Litigation is something to avoid. It’s time-consuming, contentious and expensive. The majority of divorces end up settling. There are many forms of alternative dispute resolution out there, including collaborative divorce, mediation, and informal settlement conferences.

As Market Watch further reports, there is good reason for treating a divorce like a calm business deal. Don’t rush to file. Think about your end game. Many people file quickly out of anger perhaps after learning of a spouse’s misconduct. But it’s better to be strategic.

New Year, New Priorities

If not planned correctly, divorce can be one of the most financially devastating life events, so get an up-to-date assessment of your spouse’s accounts.

“It may be illegal to open another person’s mail, but you can, however, make a note of the financial institution that mails statements. If you give your attorney those names, we can subpoena that information.

Lawyers are cautious about taking on clients who refer to their attorneys as a pit bull or a shark. “Sometimes, people might say that because we’re tough, but if you go in with all guns blazing and start in a mean, aggressive manner, you automatically create a very adversarial situation.

That could increase the cost of the divorce — which could vary between $25,000 to $100,000, depending on the assets involved, the lawyer’s fees and where you live — by double or even triple, he says. “Be courteous and respectful. The key is to avoid escalation.”

It may be that divorce is not the best option, particularly if one partner doesn’t have company health insurance. Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $18,142 this year, up 3% on last year, with workers on average paying $5,277 towards their coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Menlo, Calif.

Premiums for Obamacare are expected to rise 22% next year for the benchmark silver plan. Some health insurers won’t insure both parties on the same policy if the couple has legally separated so people report.

Avoid serving your partner with divorce papers during the holidays, especially if you have children. As they grow older they’ll hate that holiday memory forever. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do some preparation in the meantime.

In Florida, you can file for divorce and you have a period of time before you have to serve the papers. Most unhappy spouses wait until after the turkey has been carved, the gifts have been unwrapped, and the new year has started.

The Market Watch article is here.

 

Make Your Holiday a Happy Holiday

The family law offices of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. will close at 12 PM on Tuesday, December 24 for the Christmas holiday and will have limited office hours until January 2, 2020. We wish you and your family a Happy Chanukah, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! Below are some tips to help make your family holiday a happy holiday this year.

Happy Holiday2

Before the arrival of the holidays is the time to resolve child custody and timesharing problems so you can enjoy your family on the holidays with minimum stress. Here are suggestions to make your holiday timesharing issues a little easier:

  • Alternate. Some families alternate the holiday every other year. If you get the kids this year, next year will be the other parent’s turn. Having a regular plan to fall back on can eliminate the potential for what is fair.
  • Be flexible. An easy holiday schedule for everyone may require some changes from the normal visitation schedule.
  • Be respectful. You may not want to be friends anymore, but you need to figure out how to communicate with your ex without all the emotional baggage.
  • Don’t mix issues. Do not bring up unrelated issues which could make a problem free Christmas dinner impossible. Set aside your differences until after the holiday season.
  • Pick your battles. Christmas may even be more important to you than Easter is to your ex-spouse. Don’t fight just for the sake of fighting.
  • Protect the children. Your children’s memories of Christmas morning should be about family, food and fun. They should not be forced to witness you and another parent arguing.
  • Plan. Start talking about the holiday visitation schedule sooner rather than later, the longer you wait the harder it can be.

Going through separation, divorce and family law issues during the holidays is always stressful. But, the weather has cooled and the kids are on vacation. Try to make the holidays the best time of year.

 

International Child Abduction Oral Argument

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in one of the rare cases involving the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction which reach the high court. At issue is how to define what a child’s habitual residence is, a definition sorely missing in these kinds of cases – especially when infants are involved.

international child abduction

From the Cathedral of Milan . . .

Monasky, a U.S. citizen, married Taglieri, an Italian citizen, in 2011. The couple moved to Milan, Italy, in 2013. The child at the center of this international child custody dispute, known as A.M.T., was born in Italy in February 2015.

Monasky testified that after they arrived in Milan, she was the victim of domestic violence, and although she was pregnant by then she did not move with Taglieri when he took a job a few hours away in Lugo. In 2015, Michelle Monasky left a domestic-violence safe house in Italy where she had been staying with her newborn daughter and traveled to her parents’ home in Ohio.

Domenico Taglieri, her husband, filed a lawsuit in Ohio, asking a federal court to order his daughter’s return to Italy. He relied on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In his case, the Hague Convention requires the Court to return the child, if wrongfully removed from her country of “habitual residence,” to be sent back.

But what’s the “habitual residence” of a child like Monasky and Taglieri’s daughter, who is too young to really know where she is? The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the couple’s case to decide that questions.

International Child Abduction

I have written – and spoke earlier this year – on international custody and child abduction cases under The Hague Convention.

The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children “to the State of their habitual residence” to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting a child.

The key inquiry in many Hague Convention cases, and the dispositive inquiry in the Taglieri case, goes to the country of the child’s habitual residence. Habitual residence marks the place where a person customarily lives.

Many people don’t realize it, but the Hague Convention does not actually define the key term ‘habitual residence.’ There are a couple of ways to determine it. The primary way looks to the place where the child has become “acclimatized.” The back-up inquiry for young children too young to become acclimatized looks to where the parents intend their child to live.

The trial judge in the Taglieri case gave a lot of weight to the fact that the parents agreed to move to Italy for their careers and lived as a family before A.M.T.’s birth; they both secured full-time jobs in Italy, and the Mother pursued recognition of her academic credentials by Italian officials.

On the other hand, the mother argued she expressed a desire to divorce and return to the United States; contacted divorce lawyers and international moving companies and they jointly applied for the baby’s passport, so she could travel to the United States.

. . . to America’s Temple of Justice

Arguing on Monasky’s behalf before the U.S. Supreme Court, her lawyer Amir Tayrani observed that the Hague Convention was designed to protect children from wrongful removal from their habitual residences.

Tayrani faced a series of questions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked whether under his approach some infants might not have a habitual residence at all for purposes of the convention, because their parents had never agreed on where to raise their child. Tayrani allowed that such a scenario could occur but suggested that it would be relatively rare, because it would only happen during the “unusual case” in which a couple’s relationship broke down during the mother’s pregnancy or immediately after birth.

But Ginsburg pointed out that many relationships that result in cases being brought under the Hague Convention are “so acrimonious that the chances of agreement are slim to none” which would leave children without a habitual residence. Justice Samuel Alito also seemed skeptical. Under that position, he told Tayrani, “either parent could snatch her. Possession would be ten-tenths of the law?”

Justice Elena Kagan proposed a rule that if a baby has lived somewhere her whole life, courts would normally presume the baby’s habitual residence to be the country in which she lived. Such a rule would be an “administrable rule” that “provides a lot of guidance” to the courts, and it would also deter abductions.

Roberts posited that “habitual residence” is a “meaningless concept for” infants. After all, Roberts observed, eight-week-old infants “don’t have habits. Well,” Roberts joked, “other than one or two.”

The father’s attorney told the justices that virtually all of the factors weigh in favor of Italy’s being A.M.T.’s habitual residence. She was there, he stressed, with both parents, and there are no other facts that would lead to a different conclusion.

The Scotus Blog article is here.

 

Social Media and International Child Custody

An American woman living in Saudi Arabia has been punished in her international child custody divorce. During the divorce trial, her Saudi ex-husband was able to introduce exhibits from her social media account into evidence. The social media evidence proved fatal to her custody case.

ocial media international child custody

Desert Justice

Though she succeeded with the divorce, her custody battle appeared to reach a dead end after a Saudi judge awarded custody of their daughter Zeina to the husband’s mother, who lives with him, despite video evidence Ms. Vierra submitted to the court that she said showed her ex-husband doing drugs and verbally abusing her in front of their daughter.

“It’s like 10,000 times worse here because so much is at risk for women when they go to court. I genuinely thought that there would still be justice served here, and I kind of put everything on that.”

Saudi courts prioritize ensuring that children are raised in accordance with Islam. According to court documents, the judge accepted Ms. Vierra’s ex-husband’s arguments that she was unfit to raise Zeina because she was a Westerner, and ran a yoga studio.

Social Media and International Child Custody

Divorce trials usually require the introduction of sensitive and personal evidence. For example, it is common to hire private investigators to film spouses, or use forensic accountants to hunt for strange credit card charges.

Sometimes though, the evidence falls in your lap. Facebook and other social media sites are often filled with very personal information which is increasingly being used in divorce trials. You may have heard of some examples:

  • A Husband posts his status as single and childless on Facebook while seeking primary custody of his children.
  • A mother is accused of never attending her kids’ school events because of her online gaming addiction. Evidence subpoenaed from World of Warcraft tracks her on-line with her boyfriend at the time when she was supposed to be with the children.
  • A husband denies he has any anger management issues, but posts on Facebook; “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”
  • A mom denies in court that she ever smokes marijuana, but then uploads photos of herself smoking pot on Facebook.

Is the evidence admissible? And if so, how do you prove the evidence is real and not maliciously put there? The Florida Bar Commentator published an article I wrote about using Facebook evidence at trial.

The article discusses the evidentiary potential of social media sites, and the peculiar challenges of authenticating materials from the internet. Social media websites like Facebook have had an astronomical growth worldwide, and are showing up in divorce trials.

The article suggests some of the benefits and obstacles in gathering and using Facebook and other social media evidence at trial. The article also reviews the then leading national cases on social media websites, and outlines when it is necessary to use computer forensic firms and other sources to ensure that the evidence is properly admitted.

Your Desert Kingdom Divorce

The status of women in Saudi Arabia is changing. Many women now enjoy new reforms in the law which allow women to drive, and even to a certain degree, vote. The election allowing it was for municipal councils with few powers, but the reform is a milestone for many women.

But the dramatic changes have not touched the most fundamental restriction on Saudi women, a guardianship system that gives men control over many critical parts of their wives.

The guardianship system’s rules extend to women who marry Saudis, like Ms. Vierra. Even after she divorced her husband last year, Ms. Vierra’s ex-husband remains her guardian. Wielding his guardianship powers, he prevented her from going home to see her family at Christmas and let her legal residency expire, which left her stuck, unable to access her bank account or leave Saudi Arabia.

During the divorce trial, he told the court that Ms. Vierra, did not speak Arabic well, and that she was an atheist. He also submitted photos of her in a bikini, in yoga pants . . . with her hair uncovered! This social media evidence of Ms. Vierra wearing forbidden yoga pants, in a country that requires women to wear loose abayas in public, was devastating at the divorce trial.

The court accepted his testimony at face value, she said, while hers was legally worthless unless she could bring in male witnesses to back her up. She tried to counter with videos of him that she said showed him rolling a joint to smoke hashish, talking on the phone about his marijuana use and screaming at Ms. Vierra, all with Zeina in the room. Though he acknowledged his drug use, he accused her in court of giving him the drugs and of forcing him to say he was an atheist, both of which Ms. Vierra denies.

In the end, the judge found both parents unfit to raise Zeina, awarding custody instead to the husband’s mother. But Ms. Vierra did not find this comforting; she said her ex-husband’s sister had testified that their mother had hit them and emotionally abused them as children.

“This is not just my story — there’s much worse. It’s hard to believe stuff like this can happen.”

The Independent article is here.