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Tricia Walsh-Smith earned her 15 minutes of fame when she took to the Internet. The actress/playwright/author posted the secrets of her failed marriage to Phillip Smith, president of the Schubert Organization, on YouTube. Smith's company is the largest owner of theatres on Broadway in New York.
While Walsh-Smith's rant, which included allegations of a sexless marriage, might appear to be extreme, it is an example of how computers and the Internet are playing a role in divorce proceedings. An American Academy of Matrimony Lawyers (AAML) poll showed 79% of the top divorce lawyers in the U.S. have witnessed an increase in the use of Internet browser histories as case evidence over the past five years. 88% of the surveyed members stated there was a "dramatic increase" in electronic evidence being used. This evidence includes emails, cell phone records, website history and even GPS data. 44%t said spyware (software used to monitor computer activities without consent) is being used "more often than not" in divorces.
"I think we're seeing the dawn of a new information age in terms of family litigation, extending right through to somebody trying to make their case on YouTube," Stephen Grant, past president of the Canadian chapter of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (IAML) was quoted as saying in an April 23 Canwest News Service story.
While Walsh-Smith quickly became a YouTube hit and received a ton of publicity in the mainstream media, what it will accomplish for her divorce is up for debate. According to an April 17 MSNBC.com article, the website's senior legal analyst, Susan Filan, doubts the Internet footage, which Walsh-Smith later took down, will have much effect on the divorce proceedings. Walsh-Smith wants the prenuptial agreement, which would give her a home in Florida and $500,000 a year, thrown out.
"A judge isn't really going to care," Filan said of the YouTube footage. "In the end, a divorce, as upsetting and emotional as it is, is just a financial transaction. You're doing the backwards math. You're trying to make one household into two. Somebody's going to have to give something to somebody else."
Email is a more commonly used tool in divorces than YouTube. Ottawa lawyer Leonard Levencrown, a 34-year family law veteran, told the Canwest News Service that not a week passes without an email being used in an affidavit.
According to the Canwest News Service story, extramarital affairs are not that big a factor in divorce cases, however, financial disclosure is a hot button issue.
"Financial disclosure, which is mandatory across the country, can be validated or invalidated or questioned by what you find on the web," Grant said. "In other words, what somebody might be telling a private banker in Switzerland might not be what they're disclosing on a tax return or on a financial statement in a family law proceeding."
Electronic evidence can also play a role in child custody arrangements, as well as divorce cases. Gerald Stotland, president of the IAML, said he has seen a spouse's access to online pornography factor into a judge's decision.
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