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

In light of recent social media rows of high-profile couples, a Brisbane lawyer says maybe courts should consider the digital in granting DVOs.

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.


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