The Facts on Family Law – Modernizing Your Practice to Keep Pace With the Digital Age
The Numbers Don’t Lie
The ubiquity of social media in our world today is impossible to ignore. The statistics regarding social media use today are astounding: There are over 3 billion people currently using social media – That’s roughly 42% of the entire world population. 11 new people join social media every second, and those numbers will no doubt only continue to grow. According to the WorldEconomic Forum, Facebook is the third most visited social website in the world, behind only Google and YouTube. A full 74% of Facebook users visit the site at least once a day, and 1.3million pieces of content are shared on Facebook every minute of every day.
It only stands to reason, then, that social media is playing an increasingly central role in the practice of law as well. This is perhaps nowhere more true than in the practice of family law.Consider these facts:
According to a 2010 survey undertaken by the American Academy of MatrimonialLawyers, 81% of top divorce attorneys in the United States stated that they had seen an increase in the number of cases using social media evidence over the last five years. Of the online evidence being used, 65% reported that Facebook was the most frequent source of evidence relied upon.
Certain sites have reported that one-third of all legal action in divorce cases is precipitated by affairs conducted online.
In a recent survey of family law attorneys, 81% of them reported discovering evidence on social media which they felt was valuable to present in court.
These numbers are unsurprising, and will, without question, continue to rise along with the increased use of social media and the continuing digitalization of our world. This digital revolution is also revolutionizing our courtrooms – and regardless of the area of practice, online content is increasingly being used as evidence. eDiscovery is a billion dollar industry that is only expected to continue growing exponentially. For those in the practice of family law in particular, this is especially true, and evidence found on social media can be critical to an effective practice in any number of ways.
How Social Media Evidence is Revolutionizing the Practice of Family Law
The divorce rate in the United States is currently above 50%. This means that as a family law practitioner, you’re likely quite busy. You’re probably faced with gathering evidence in the midst of hostile and acrimonious separations, custody battles and difficult fights over child support and alimony. In the past, evidence presented in family law cases often consisted of things like diaries, calendars, recorded phone conversations, copies of letters, canceled checks, bank statements, or he-said, she-said testimony. While these types of evidence are certainly still relevant and useful, it is just a fact that social media is becoming increasingly valuable as evidence to be used to address these issues.
A simple truth of human nature is that people like to talk, and vent, particularly about things that may be bothering them. In our modern digital age, almost without thinking twice about it, many turn to social media for exactly this purpose. This is not even to mention the fact that many people are simply very used to posting about their daily lives on social media. Photos, comments, videos – all are shared liberally and often, and without thinking at all about whether or not those postings contradict any assertions they have made in their divorce case.Accordingly, evidence found on social media can be very relevant and probative regarding a wide range of family law disputes – whether involving financial, parenting, custody, support, or any number of other matters.
By way of example, consider the following scenarios:
A husband has filed a motion seeking to decrease the amount of alimony he was ordered to pay, based upon the assertion that he is having extreme financial difficulties. His ex-wife suspects that he may be lying. Through Facebook, the ex-wife and her attorney are able to locate pictures of expensive gifts the husband recently purchased for his new girlfriend, as well as a tweet on Twitter regarding his recent promotion. They successfully used this evidence to argue against an alimony deduction.
A wife was awarded nearly $1000 in monthly alimony payments due to injuries from an accident that allegedly left her unable to work. Her ex-husband, however, discovered images on Instagram of the wife taking part in a new running club that she had joined with friends, as well as vacation photos of a recent trip with her new boyfriend where she was featured swimming, hiking, and horseback riding. The husband and his attorney decide to use these photos and other related social media content as evidence to argue that the ex-wife is in fact far more capable of working than she claimed.
An ex-husband claims that he does not have enough earning capacity to continue to pay child support at the court-ordered rate. The ex-wife and her attorney are able to capture evidence from his LinkedIn profile indicating that he has in fact recently received a promotion, and use this to argue against a decrease in support.
A mother is seeking sole custody of her children. On her Facebook account, however, she often posts pictures of herself partying with her friends in which she appears to be staying out late and often, usually while intoxicated. The ex-husband and his attorney are able to use those photos to argue that granting the mother’s request is not in the best interests of the children.
While these scenarios serve to highlight only a few ways that social media evidence may play a critical role as evidence, there are endless possibilities. Savvy family law practitioners will seethe potential treasure trove of evidentiary value, and capitalize on it in every way possible. The simple truth of the matter is that today’s tweet or post may be the exhibit in tomorrow’s litigation.The question is, how best to go about capturing that evidence?
It is an unfortunate truth that many attorneys are trying to practice in the current digital age by using the antiquated evidence collection methods of the past. Many attempt to gather social media evidence themselves, by using manual screenshots and a written affidavit for purposes of meeting the appropriate standards of authentication. Others outsource their evidence collection requests to a third-party provider that is not on site. Not only are these methods inefficient, time-consuming, and costly, they are also risky.
What are those risks? For one, the evidence in question is often deleted as quickly as it is posted. It is not at all uncommon for someone to make a post on social media, and then only days, or even moments later, regret the post and delete it. When you outsource your evidence collection you necessarily incur a delay in obtaining the evidence you need. In the meantime, your valuable evidence could disappear altogether. This is perhaps nowhere more true than in the practice of family law, where an ex-spouse might post something in anger or in the heat of the moment, and then quickly think better of it after calming down. If you delay by outsourcing to a third party, you’ll likely miss your chance at capturing that evidence altogether.
The second risk is that even if you do manage to capture the evidence with a Screenshot, you may not be able to successfully have it admitted in any case, because it isn’t properly authenticated. The truth is that while printing a PDF or saving a screenshot may preserve what you see, screenshots and simple PDF files are easily altered with readily available editing tools.Screenshots lack important identifying information, called Metadata, that is embedded into the webpage or post you are trying to save. Ultimately, digital evidence requires proof of authenticity under both the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the rules of evidence in every state court in the country. This isn’t something you want to take a chance on.
With WebPreserver, you can eliminate both of these problems. In today’s digital world, courts expect evidence to be authenticated, readily made available, and organized. When gathered effectively, that evidence can make the critical difference in your case. WebPreserver can help you to ensure that your evidence meets those standards, in an efficient, cutting-edge, cost-effective manner. WebPreserver can collect the data you need at any time, at any location, in just seconds. If you can gain access to it, using our service you can collect it with just one click. Websites, blogs, social media, chat forums, video and audio files – the WebPreserver plugin can collect them all in their native formats, and also in a variety of forensically sound export formats.
Moreover, when you collect evidence using our Plug-in, you can rest assured in the knowledge that the evidence you’ve collected includes all necessary metadata for proper authentication, including a 256-bit Digital signature and timestamps on all captured files using a certifiedStratum-1 atomic clock in compliance with the eSign act.
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Most of the attorneys we encounter work hard to make their practices the best that they can be.They take pride in their reputation for providing the highest quality of service to their clients, and they care about excellence. We are sure that you are no different. If you want to raise your family law practice to the next level – if you want to collect the evidence that you need to win cases on behalf of your clients in the most effective and efficient manner possible, give us a call.Experience the WebPreserver difference for yourself.