Family law expert urges courts to consider social media use in DVO approvals

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A family law expert is saying that maybe it’s time social media use has more influence in the courts’ granting of domestic violence orders.
Jennifer Hetherington, principal lawyer and founder of Brisbane firm Hetherington Legal, also says that any sparring on social media could “easily cross the line into domestic violence.”
The comments are prompted by the developing social media war between high-profile couple Salim Mehajer and estranged wife Aysha.
The two used to operate a single Instagram account under the username “_salim_aysha._” but Aysha has now renamed the account “aysha_lea” and appears to have deleted any trace of Salim on the account, according to reports.
The woman has also sought an apprehended violence order or AVO, using her maiden surname of Learmonth, against her husband. It is believed the new Instagram handle is in reference to her last pre-married surname.
The AVO prevents her husband from contacting her or even approaching her within 50 metres.
The couple made headlines last year for their lavish wedding but reports say that their relationship is on the rocks, despite Salim giving no indication that this is the case and even telling reporters that only death could separate the couple.
Salim is now operating his own Instagram account under the “salim.mehajer” username which he uses to post photos of including those of him and Aysha.
Hetherington says that social media wars like this do not look good to a Family Court judge and could backfire against estranged couples, especially if they are seeking parenting orders.
“If you have kids it doesn’t look great to a judge if you have posted ‘eleventy-billion’ messages about your ex, and if you are trying to co-parent it makes this process harder,” said the Accredited Family Law Specialist.
Furthermore, in the case of Salim and Aysha Mehajer, Salim could actually also be violating his wife’s AVO by monitoring her social media pages, said Hetherington.
“Under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 the definition of domestic violence includes unauthorised surveillance of a person such as monitoring a person's account with a social networking internet site,” she said.
“My worry is that social media could become the main way people like this pair communicates and a disintegrating relationship should not be fought out in the public eye, especially if they use influential social media platforms to portray their side of the case to the outside world.
“In particular if one partner has taken out a DVO against their ex, then any sparring via social media could easily cross the line into domestic violence, and media reporting of such exchanges needs to be considered in this light.”
Hetherington also said that the attention mainstream media is giving social media fights give these more prominence with children often caught in the crosshairs.
“As a Mediator, I’m especially worried if children are caught up in feuding ex’s fighting on social media. Parents owe it to their children to minimise the stress of a relationship breakdown and conduct themselves in a respectful manner,” she said.
“Every family lawyer will tell you the essential priority in any family split is the wellbeing of the children and minimising any of the fallout of the separation upon them,” she added.

  • Paul Kenna on 15/09/2016 6:24:30 PM

    I'm not sure what state you are in - in Vic not only are you not allowed to publish anything on the Internet, you are not allowed to attempt to get anyone else to do anything you are not allowed to do - if you aren't allowed to contact her what the hell are you contacting any of her family for. It wouldn't help in any case

  • Stuart on 2/09/2016 12:28:54 PM

    If I have been served an interim summons for an intervention order and point 4. states that I cannot publish on the internet, by email or other electronic communication any material about the protected person, does his mean i cannot plead with her family members to change their approach to this? I have sent all her family members diffeent messages saying how bad this situation is for my boys and that I am not a violent man and they should know this. Does this constitute a breach? There have been no threats other than to suggest this is going to kill me and is so painful not seeing my boys.

  • paul kenna on 16/08/2016 4:23:00 PM

    Social media comments are regularly accepted as evidence in Victorian Intervention Order applications.

    One of the standard orders of the Victorian courts is to prohibit "publishing on the internet, by email or other electronic communication any material about a protected person.

    To publish in the circumstances of an interim or final order will render the respondent subject to criminal charges. This means a likely four figure fine for a first offence and an argument about why jail is not the appropriate outcome for second and subsequent breach of the order.

    The current differences between the Australian Jurisdictions such as this and say the threat of costs (extremely unlikely in Victoria while a real issue in other states will make a national DVO regime troublesome.

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