Consider Your Tech Use Prior to Divorce
Technology is an immensely useful and powerful tool. It enables us to communicate more effectively, helps keep us organized, entertains us and keeps us constantly connected to the ones we love. Technology and tech-enabled devices are everywhere and are extremely effective in making our lives more efficient – but for people considering divorce, technology can be a double-edged sword.
Technology Cuts Both Ways
The same tech that sends your email, makes your online reservation, or texts memes and jokes to your kids can be used to track your conversations, your personal spending and even your physical movement. For spouses who may be preparing to divorce, special consideration should be given to the technology you use and how you use it.
Let’s take a look at the risks your digital life may present and how to minimize them:
Social media websites. Facebook, Instagram, dating websites and other social channels can be used to gather information about you or your spouse, as well as other individuals (such as a spouse’s girlfriend or boyfriend), for use in divorce proceedings. This can be done simply by browsing those sites or through a subpoena.
To safely navigate social media during a divorce, consider doing the following:
- Review your privacy and security settings.
- Change your passwords frequently.
- Stay off dating websites and apps.
- Avoid sending inappropriate communications or photos.
Text messages and emails. Texts and emails are often used as evidence in divorce and custody cases. This includes written and vocal communication between the spouses, as well as those between a spouse and a third party (such as a girlfriend or boyfriend). These records can be gained through formal discovery requests or even through a subpoena request to the spouse’s cell phone provider.
To minimize your exposure, be careful what you text and email to other parties. It should go without saying that compromising images and hateful speech should not be sent to a third party or your spouse.
Another alternative method of communication with your spouse regarding custody issues is the popular app Our Family Wizard. This app helps parents amicably communicate about issues such as scheduling and expenses and is accessible by your attorney, judge or guardian ad litem. One feature is its ToneMeter™, which helps parents identify when they’re using emotionally charged statements and its records are accepted as evidence in all 50 states.
GPS tracking and surveillance devices. The recent advent of tracking devices has created a gray area in collecting divorce evidence. GPS locators such as Apple’s AirTags and Google’s Find My Device app make it easier than ever to track another person’s movements. It’s best not to be overzealous in your hunt for evidence on your spouse, though, as tracking devices present legal issues in divorce cases. In fact, most states require the permission of one party to be tracked by another.
To safeguard against being tracked, be sure to protect your smartphone with a passcode, finger print authentication or facial recognition access. If you suspect you’re being tracked by a stand-alone device, document your suspicions and any relevant evidence you may find, such as an AirTag.
Financial transaction records. While financial transaction evidence is hardly new in divorce cases, methods of transferring funds and places to put them have grown exponentially. Remember, Venmo, PayPal and cryptocurrency all provide traceable records of where you or your spouse may be sending money without the other’s knowledge. Our advice is to do nothing during the divorce proceedings with joint funds or assets that might raise the negative attention of the other party.
When in Doubt, Don’t
Many couples fail to remember that our digital lives are mostly permanent and highly traceable. In many divorce cases, marital issues develop from infidelity, financial nefariousness and deceptive behavior, and digital evidence is often subpoenaed to support one spouse’s claims against the other. Taking basic protection measures, such as password changes and access restrictions, can help better safeguard your personal information.
More importantly, exercising discretion in your online activities is by far the safest, easiest means of avoiding the discovery of damaging evidence – for you and your spouse.
Alexis Connors is an associate at Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenbery. She focuses on family law matters, including complex divorce litigation, child support and custody disputes and paternity and legitimization