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.
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.