• Laura L. Van Tassel, Esq.

Why You Need To Conduct a Digital Checkup As Part Of Your Divorce Planning.


Social media and technology has become such an important part of our lives. It’s been a lifeline during this pandemic, as it was in fact the one way to share our lives safely with family and friends. However, as restrictions are lifted here in New Jersey and around your state, you may want to be a little more cautious if you are going through a divorce.

Everything you do in cyberspace can be found and your soon to be ex-spouse can find clever ways to keep tabs on you and then use it against you in family law courts. As a divorce attorney, I am urging you to conduct a “digital checkup.” This means reviewing everything on your social media platforms and other remote technologies.

Social Media

I’m not saying that social media is a bad thing. It makes sense that as our lives finally get back to normal you would want to share what you are doing and how you are feeling about your new found freedom on social media. And no one would blame you for wanting to share your thoughts on your divorce/breakup online as well. However, you need to think about what you post during this process, because the last thing that you want is to have one picture or post ruin your case. Trust me, I've seen it happen.


6 Social Media Don'ts of Divorce:


  1. Don't forget to change your passwords;

  2. Don’t wait to change your Facebook timeline settings so that anything that someone wants to post on your timeline is not displayed until you review it.

  3. Don't badmouth your former spouse;

  4. Don't allow yourself to be tagged in inappropriate posts or photos;

  5. Don't post anything you wouldn't want to be used against you in court later.

  6. Don’t share publicly and don’t accept “friend requests” from a stranger., as your ex can easily set up a fake social media account to look like a stranger. Yes, I have seen that happen too!


Technology

Remote technologies have made all our lives easier, however if your spouse still has access to your digital assistants, or is even a little tech savvy, then they can potentially access data saved by those technologies you think are private.


Spousal Spying with Siri/Alexa

If your spouse still has access to your digital assistants even while you are going through a divorce or legal separation, then they can potentially access data saved by these technologies. They could still have administrative access that allows them to contact the product manufacturer and retrieve copies of collected data and audio files. For example, if your spouse wanted to degrade your image and make you seem unfit for child custody, then they might bring up data records to show you placing numerous orders for alcohol using your digital assistant, regardless of how innocent it may have been. Make sure you remove them from your account.

Emails:

Think your emails are private? Think again. If your spouse has access to your computer, they could use keystroke spyware on your computer that tracks every key you press, effectively letting them shadow you whenever you use the computer. Antivirus software can sometimes catch keystroke programs, but not always, because installing these software programs legitimately isn’t seen as a virus.

The safest thing to do is use a personal computer and change the password so that your spouse cannot access it.

Smartphones

Smartphones are also difficult to “tap” because the internal operating systems resist any sort of malware, however mobile phone apps for home security systems, location services, shared photo accounts, shared file storage accounts, online banking accounts, and shared messaging accounts can be used by your spouse if they “jailbreak” it. Jailbreaking a phone is essentially a factory reset of the device that overrides the manufacturer’s programming and instructions, turning the phone into a blank slate. People often jailbreak iPhones to run Android operating systems, for example. But they can also jailbreak a phone to slip spyware onto it before passing the phone along as a gift.


Another place I see clients make this mistake is in text messages. Remember, those are admissible in trial too! While you may be angry at your spouse for bringing the children back late, sending a profanity-laced text or email is only going to hurt you in the long run.


The moral of this story is that you should be hesitant to use any electronic device, especially smartphones that have been gifted by your ex.

Cars

Using Vehicle GPS tracking, your ex-spouse can keep tabs on you and pry into your personal life and attempt to find evidence of negligence or wrongdoing that could impact your divorce proceedings.

Vehicle-connected smartphone apps allow drivers to locate their car on a map, lock or unlock doors from anywhere, and access the car’s navigation system, including previous routes. Location-based apps show location of family and friends, including date, time, and duration of visits.

While it may seem illegal for a spouse to place a GPS tracker on your car, it may be considered legal if you and your spouse jointly own the vehicle.


Smart home apps

Smart home apps such as automatic door locks, automated lighting, and surveillance systems. Nest and Ring home security systems record audio and video that can be accessed remotely. Cameras around the home can be accessed remotely for listening and viewing in real time or in recordings, so make sure to reset your app and wifi passwords.

How much of this is legal?

So you are probably wondering about now is this all legal? Spousal spying through new tech and cyberspace is that it is illegal in most circumstances. If your spouse has done any sort of clandestine maneuvering, tampering, or dishonest tricks to get access to your devices or data, then it is probably unlawful. Proving that they did break the law to spy on you can be used in your favor during divorce proceedings. However, beware that some spousal spying is legal. Namely, your spouse is permitted to look at your social media accounts, even if your accounts are set as “private,” the posts and data stored there are technically in the public domain. However, spying on your spouse in your home is still illegal. You have a reasonable expectation of privacy in certain areas of your life, including your password-protected accounts.

What should you do if you believe you’re a victim of spousal spying?

If you believe you are a victim of spousal spying, you should immediately speak with your divorce attorney. You may also wish to file a police report, even if the spying is not technically illegal, as it will provide documentation of what has happened, which the judge presiding over your divorce may be able to consider.


Your divorce attorney will have an intimate understanding of which types of actions are and are not illegal, and may be able to provide you with resources to determine exactly how your spouse is spying and how to prevent them from continuing to do so. If your spouse’s spying escalates to stalking or harassment, your divorce attorney can also assist you in filing for a restraining or protective order.

If you live in New Jersey and you believe your spouse has been spying on you, it is critical to understand the issue from a legal perspective. I can help you. I have decades of legal experience dealing with some highly unusual cases. No matter what details are involved in your family law dispute or divorce, you can be certain I know the next steps to preserve and uphold your best interests and those of your children.

Contact me at 201.664.8566 now or visit me online to learn more.