Do I Need to Change My Passwords when beginning a divorce?

Changing the passwords on online accounts is not only an important practice to engage in as a regular user of technology but also as a person who is going through a divorce. Your information should always be kept as safe as possible and at no other time is this truer than when you are going through a divorce. There is a heightened sense of security and awareness for your personal information during a time when other people become especially interested in your online and digital activities. As a result, it is wise to consider changing your password to your phone, email, and other accounts on the computer. 

The primary reason for this is that your spouse either knows many of the passwords that you use or he or she knows where to find a list or other information regarding those passwords and can figure them out easily. This is not to say that you will want to hide information from your spouse or that doing so is allowable. However, what it does mean is that if your spouse has the right to get access to certain types of information then he or she can do so legally. An example of this would be the discovery process. Otherwise, your spouse should not be able to access your online accounts, and neither should their attorney. 

From our experience at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan representing many local families who have gone through divorce cases, most spouses tend to share passwords. This means that you are in an especially compromised position when it comes to your basic online activity. There is no real way to be sure of what websites or accounts your spouse has access to which belong to you. The only reasonable thing for you to think about in a time like this is that you need to assume that your spouse has access to all of your online behavior and to act that way. This means going back and doing some work to protect your information from your spouse and their attorney. 

Nobody is saying that it is easy or fun to need to go back and update passwords. You are probably far busier than you were just a few years ago. If your children are getting older and you are gaining more responsibilities at work, then you are probably under more of a time crunch now than you were back in the day when you set up these passwords. That does not mean that it is not worth your time to try and go back and adjust the passwords to become less susceptible to being figured out by your spouse. 

Any account that you have a personal password and access should be updated. This meant that your email is a great place to start. Your email contains emails between you and your attorney as well as private emails that could be between yourself and other people that have nothing with your divorce. If your spouse wants to see information about you this is an easy way to discover that information. It is much more efficient than trying to read text messages and piece together information from those messages. So, if you want to shut out your spouse from getting information about you then your email account is a good place to begin. 

The other aspect of this discussion is that your email is usually used to verify other accounts and generally helps you log in to many of the websites and accounts that we use online. If your email account is compromised, then there is no telling how compromised your other accounts will become. Updating passwords, making changes in the accounts and many other issues can arise when you have problem passwords and compromised email accounts. Imagine a situation where your spouse accesses your email without your permission. It is a huge issue that you need to deal with now rather than choosing to wait on it. If you start to update passwords on each website, then those updated passwords or usernames will go directly to your email where your spouse can be waiting on them. Remove that trap first and then you can go through the remaining accounts confidently. 

Your email is only the first place you should start to look when it comes to updating your passwords. The more thorough you can be about this the better. Even leaving one or two passwords unchanged is leaving yourself susceptible to infiltration and information being lost to the other side in your divorce. You will be upset with yourself for having done so even if you get the opportunity to update that information during the divorce. It is a definite risk for you to not update passwords when you can, especially when it comes to your email. That is where your security concerns should begin and end. 

What are some examples of accounts that need to be updated (login/password)?

Other than your email several different accounts need to be updated by the time your divorce begins. One of the first things that your spouse’s attorney will try to do is to help look through your social media and other websites that have your personal information. This is not to say that he or she is going to break the law and try to hack into your accounts, but you still do not want to leave information like this wide open for your spouse or your attorney to access. Do not delete accounts or other information/photos that may be online. 

You should review your court orders and ask your attorney for guidance on what you can erase or delete and what you must keep in place. There is a lot of online evidence that can be used in your divorce. Therefore, you should consider digital evidence as being just as relevant as the hard copy documents that may have been more prevalent in years past. You do not want to have to deal with an accusation that you destroyed or deleted potential evidence as your divorce gets underway.

Your banking account information is extremely sensitive and vital to your well-being during your divorce. This is an area in which your spouse probably would have access to your information especially if you all shared a bank account. For that reason, you should set up a new password and username for the various accounts you have at banks around the area. This could mean changing your password, and username or even setting up multiple set authorizations to make sure that you are the person that you say you are. This can be a pain in the rear to have to verify who you are regularly, but it is nonetheless important to do it from a security standpoint.

Keep in mind, however, that if you and your spouse share bank account login information you need to talk to him or her before updating the account. You are not allowed to bar your spouse’s access to their bank account during a divorce. Therefore, you can be penalized significantly for doing so even if it is done without you thinking. It is smart to talk to your spouse about your plan to set up another username or password and to make sure that it is ok with him or her. However, if you have your account then there should be no problem with updating this information without consulting your spouse first.

Do you have a credit card? Most Americans do these days. The same sort of rule applies to credit cards as it does to bank accounts. If you have your credit card, then you need to change any online access information that you have. This is especially true if your spouse is listed as a co-signer and not a cardholder. You can even talk to your attorney about being provided a new credit card number. 

For those cards that you have with your spouse, it is a tough situation to find yourself in. On the one hand, you and your spouse are going to have a temporary or standing order that prohibits either of you from spending money that is on things other than essentials or your attorney fees. Bare bones budget, in other words. However, yours would not be the first divorce where a spouse decided not to follow those orders and do their own thing when it came to spending money. Keeping an eye on the credit card statement so that you know what is being spent is a good way to keep the situation under control. It is better to immediately address charges on the card rather than to find them weeks after your spouse has been spending wildly.

If you and your spouse are on the same phone plan it can be simple to track down each other’s whereabouts using your cell phones. You should do some research into how to remove yourself from GPS tracking so that your spouse can’t always keep track of where you are. Fitness apps and just the “maps” app on your phone can keep tabs on where you are and where you are going. In the old days, a spouse would need to slap a bugged device on the bumper of your car to keep tabs on you. Now your cell phone may be inadvertently helping your spouse track your whereabouts. 

Social media- what to look out for during a divorce

The big one as far as the online footprint is concerned is social media use. Many of us have multiple social media profiles that we use on a near-frequent basis. It seems like there are new additions and improvements made to the existing social media platforms every year. That’s in addition to the new social media apps that come up which sweep the globe in terms of popularity. Social media is a great way for us to keep close to family and friends who live far away and generally stay up to date with organizations and the goings on in our community. 

However, social media is also a great way for your spouse to keep track of you, and your whereabouts and to collect information that can be turned into evidence. Social media is a great way for your spouse’s attorney to conduct some basic research on you without having to log off social media. This can be a fantastic way for information to be collected in a short amount of time. As I’m sure you are aware social media is a big deal when it comes to evidence in a case. As a result, you should be wary about what your social media usage is during the divorce. You can’t exactly delete your profile, photos, or postings once your divorce has started. What you can do is make it difficult for the public to see your profile or for a person to be able to hack into your account using your password. 

What you ultimately have to figure out with social media is whether using any of the various social media platforms is worth the risk that it presents to your case. Those risks are not merely the wasted time that you can experience from drifting down the various rabbit holes on social media. Looking at photos, looking up people from high school and things like this are not bad in and of themselves. However, when you have other things that you need to be doing then it is a cost-benefit analysis that you have to perform. Is the juice worth the squeeze when it comes to social media use?

Here is what you are risking when it comes to social media. If your profile is public, then not only can your family and friends look up information about you but so can your spouse and their attorney. As I mentioned earlier in this blog post an attorney can do some basic research on the opposing party by logging onto social media just to see what that person is up to. If your profile is private, then your spouse’s lawyer would not be able to just look up whatever he or she wanted to find about you. A public profile inviting people to look up information about you. During a divorce, it is difficult to explain away evidence found online even if it is taken out of context. It is better to just not have to make that argument in the first place and instead leave social media to something you can do once your divorce is over. 

People do things on social media that they believe are harmless because social media can lull you into a false sense of security when it comes to your actions. You post something from the comfort of your living room, and it feels on an emotional level like you are posting something for just your closest friends. However, the reality is that the entire world can see what you have posted, and it may not be all that flattering about you or your spouse. Even harmless photos in other times can be taken out of context and used against you in a divorce. Think about what you post, why you are posting it, and whether it even needs to be posted in the first place. 

That is ultimately what you need to think about as you consider your social media use during a divorce. Even if you do not post things that can compromise your case you may find yourself in a position where someone that you know could post a photo or something similar that is dangerous to your case. This means that you need to have conversations with people that you know about what they post involving you. Additionally, it may be time to restrict whether people can “tag” you in photos and things of that nature. It may seem like I am being overborne when it comes to social media, but I am not exaggerating when I say that social media is the easiest way for you to have someone else discover information about you and your daily life. Photos with alcohol, at parties, etc. can be taken out of context easily. What you are left with is having to explain those photos to a judge. 

In any event, it is critical that you not make any unforced errors during your divorce. These are mistakes that you create yourself or are not necessary to be made but are nonetheless a problem due to your having done something problematic. Working with an experienced family law attorney is a great way for you to avoid these sorts of unforced errors. Social media and the digital world, in general, is a places where a lot of those errors tend to occur. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case. 

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