Posts tagged legal system
Changing your relationship status: Social media and family law

This is an update to an article that ran in our previous blog ELAN on Sep 17, 2012. “I saw you tweeted that Tumblr post I put on Facebook.”

A few years ago, that sentence would have been complete gibberish, and you’d think twice about sitting down beside someone who said that on a bus. Nowadays, however, you wouldn’t give it a second thought. That’s how ingrained social media has become in our everyday lives; in fact, more than half of all Canadians use Facebook every day.

As social media penetrates our lives, it’s no surprise that it’s having greater and greater implications under the law. A quick search of CanLII — an electronic legal research database — shows that 1,108 court decisions mentioned Facebook in 2016 in Canada. Ten years ago there were five (Facebook was created in 2004).

While its use in criminal law has been big news before — tracking down rioters, for example — its effects on family law have been more subtle.

A survey in the UK found that Facebook was cited as a contributing factor to more than one third of divorce cases. For example, Facebook’s list of suggested friends alerted two women to the fact that they were married to the same man. Not only is social media a contributing factor to family law cases, it’s increasingly being used as evidence in these cases.

Your status updates and posts, which are often public, could affect custody, spousal support, or more. They can be used to demonstrate a number of things:

  • your state of mind;
  • proof of communication;
  • proof of time and place; and
  • evidence of actions

This isn’t necessarily limited to what is publicly visible, either; a judge in Connecticut ordered a couple to divulge their Facebook and dating site passwords during their divorce proceedings.

It’s not entirely clear how social media will continue to shape and affect family law, but apparently, it’s having an effect, so perhaps it’s best to keep an eye on what you’re posting.

Articling students get additional powers in BC

As of September, articling law students in BC can now serve as commissioners and take affidavits. Until this change, only lawyers, notaries, and a few select other professionals could act as commissioners. Affidavits are documents you prepare for court that contain the facts of your case. You have to swear under oath that what you’ve written in the affidavit is true. A commissioner must witness you signing the affidavit.

After law students complete their law degree, they must spend a year articling before they’re allowed to become a practicing lawyer. During this year, lawyers supervise the articling students and work with them to help them learn the profession.

What are the costs of going to court alone?
Linda, a Public Policy grad student at SFU, is part of a group researching the costs of self-representing in court.
Linda, a Public Policy grad student at SFU, is part of a group researching the costs of self-representing in court.

Going to court without a lawyer is a daunting task. It’s also not that uncommon. It’s estimated that half of all family law litigants don’t have a lawyer. If you look outside of family law, it can get as high as 80% depending on the issue and court it’s being tried in. We know that self-representing can take a toll — both on the person and the court system — but we can’t put a dollar value on that toll.

Getting a sense of the costs is just what a group of graduate students from Simon Fraser University is trying to do. A group of Public Policy students is in the middle of a research project looking at the monetary costs of self-representation in court. They want to put a dollar value on this process, including looking at missed work, time spent preparing for court, and court fees.

In the end, these students want to create a better understanding of the experience and impact of self-representation so that the justice system can develop better strategies to help those who have to go to court by themselves.

Right now, these students are looking to gather some information from people in BC who have, or are currently, representing themselves in court. If that’s you, please take a few minutes to fill out their online survey.