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Nova Scotia courts use video to deal with long-distance divorce

A Halifax lawyer says online dating has created challenges for courts trying to hear from witnesses in cases where relationships fall apart, leading to a greater use of video conferencing.

'We often have lawsuits that are in part conducted over the internet'

Family lawyer William Leahey says courts in Nova Scotia are becoming more open to using things like video feeds to reach witnesses. (Submitted)

A family lawyer in Halifax believes the popularity of online dating is pushing courts in Nova Scotia to become more tech savvy when those marriages fall apart, accepting witness testimony by video.  

"You have to have that kind of technical advance in divorce to make up for the technical advance in getting together," said William Leahey. 

He said more couples are coming together from different parts of the world and eventually some of those relationships fail.  

"You'll have one person wanting to go all the way back to Texas or California, and the question is where is the child going to reside under those circumstances? When that happens we often have lawsuits that are in part conducted over the internet," said Leahey. 

Couples involved in the divorce will usually be present in court, but witnesses can be called on to testify via video feed. 

"It's very expensive to fly that witness to Nova Scotia, so we'll set up a video feed so that that witness can testify here in Nova Scotia while remaining in California or Texas. Just a few years ago that was unthinkable."   

The Executive Office of the Nova Scotia Judiciary said in a statement that video conferencing technology is commonly being used in all of its courtrooms, not just family court.

The office also said video conferencing is being used with "increasing frequency."

'Does the oath have the same meaning?'

"It gets used simply because people tend to be more far flung today," said Rollie Thompson, a law professor at Dalhousie University 

"In cases of importance to people … the parties themselves will generally turn up in the courtroom because they want to make sure they are there to make their case. It's harder to do that by way of video conferencing."     

Thompson said video conferencing in court raises lots of questions. 

"Our system of resolution of disputes works on the assumption that both parties are present," said Thompson. 

"Both parties testify, both parties do so in the solemnity and the special conditions of a courtroom. The more you move away from that and allow people to testify by way of cellphone or video conferencing, the more you lose many of those things. 

"Does the oath have the same meaning? Does the presence in the face of the court have the same meaning? Those are things courts struggle with, with video conferencing."  

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