Electronic Discovery in Divorce Cases

Emails in Divorce

With more and more communication taking place online and via electronic devices, it’s no surprise that internet-based correspondence plays a big role in California courtrooms—and divorce cases are no exception. The recovery of any data that’s stored in electronic format for usage in legal cases and trials is called electronic discovery (also known as e-discovery).

What Type of Data Can Be Collected During E-Discovery?

Any data that is stored on a hard drive or other electronic storage device falls under common e-discovery rules in the United States and California. Common files that are collected during investigations can include:

  • PDF files
  • Image files
  • Text documents
  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Instant messages
  • Voicemail
  • PowerPoint files
  • Spreadsheets

Information that’s stored in an electronic format is different from information that exists in a physical or tangible format, as common data files often include metadata information from which evidence like when the relevant information was created, saved, accessed, or viewed can be obtained.

How Does the E-Discovery Process Work?

The e-discovery process often follows the sequence of events listed below, although not all steps will take place or take place in the listed order:

  • Identification
    Relevant electronic documents and files selected for future analysis, as well as the parties in possession of those files, are identified. Strict criteria may be used to limit the scope of requested documents and files to a reasonable size and volume.
  • Preservation
    Because data can be destroyed, it’s vital that chosen documents and files are preserved for future analysis. During the preservation phase, identified data is placed in a legal hold to prevent it from being deleted, corrupted, or destroyed.
  • Collection
    The collection process can begin after data is safely preserved. It occurs when legal counsel first obtains the relevant data and can begin moving forward with the e-discovery process. Third-party experts may be used during this phase to protect the integrity of the data.
  • Processing
    Because data files aren’t always immediately viewable or retrievable upon collection, they may need to be converted to new file formats or have information extracted due to encryption or other archiving methods. This step is frequently accomplished with the use of data culling techniques and specialized software.
  • Review
    After data and documents are extracted and prepared for viewing, legal counsel can begin searching for relevant information. Search software and review tools can speed up this process by targeting specific criteria, such as keywords and dates.
  • Production
    Once the review process is complete, all data and documents—as well as files and software designed to load the data into a viewing platform—are turned over to the opposing counsel.