Even the most resistant among us have an online or digital presence to one degree or another. Just think about how many conversations you have had with older relatives around the holidays about the photos posted of your son or daughter on one of the social media websites. My point is that just about everyone is active online. Since we know this to be true, you must know how to protect yourself and utilize technology to your advantage in your divorce. There is a difference between misbehaving and being diligent. The aim of today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, is to help you act diligently to position yourself well in your divorce.
Keep an eye on your spouse’s social media usage.
We’ve already discussed social media today and just how prevalent it is in our world. While much of the social media usage that our neighbors and we engage in is harmless, an unfortunately high percentage of divorces see one spouse or the other acting inappropriately online.
With all that said, you need to keep track of your spouse’s social media usage as closely as possible. It’s not just extramarital affairs that you should be keeping an eye on, either. For instance, you need to know if your spouse is honest and open with your community income or if the utility bill hasn’t been paid this month because they are making payments on a brand new boat. People get very comfortable posting things on social media to keep closer to the vest in the non-digital world. If your spouse is wasting community funds on something not essential- i.e., your children- you should know about it and alert your attorney.
There is an art and a science to collect postings to share with your lawyer. I have experienced many clients come into an initial meeting with me carrying a folder with printouts from the various social media sites that are pretty damning for their spouse. However, it is not as simple as taking that folder and dropping it on the judge’s bench to have them flip through the photos and issue a ruling. Those postings have to be put into a format that is admissible into the evidence that the judge can consider.
Another issue to keep in mind is that if you gained knowledge of the postings through means that are not legal, you would not get those admitted into evidence. Hacking into your spouse’s social media account or computer will render that material inadmissible. Simply checking your timeline and seeing an image pop up is just fine. Your attorney can help you differentiate between the two situations and decide what is worth presenting to the judge in a potential temporary orders hearing or trial.
Learn technology and use technology to benefit you in your divorce
Like so many other things in life, technology can giveth and take away. Meaning: there are positive attributes to technology and negative attributes to technology. It is up to you and your attorney to make sure that it giveth more to your divorce case than it taketh away. Suppose you are suspicious of your spouse engaging in any bad behavior. In that case, you need to speak to your attorney before putting on your detective hat and investigating matters on your own.
We have already discussed how obtaining potential evidence against your spouse through illegal means can render that evidence inadmissible. This means that the judge will not consider the evidence for all the effort you undertook. Avoid this situation by hiring an attorney who knows technology and can utilize it in a way that benefits you.
Are you aware that federal and state laws protect a person’s privacy from activities like intercepting emails, text messages, and other communications via the internet? This is important to know ahead of time to not engage in illegal behavior. Another consideration to make is that your spouse may act illegally and destroy otherwise admissible evidence that is contained on your home computer and other electronic devices. Courts will bar a person from doing so. In most cases, if you can prove that your spouse destroyed otherwise admissible evidence, you can and should have your spouse held to account in front of the judge.
How to tell the difference between Electronically Stored Information and everyday junk
Information relevant and potentially admissible in your divorce stored on an electronic device is known as Electronically Stored Information (ESI). This information can take many forms- often as an email sent between you and your spouse. Before going through your emails and deleting things, you should verify with your attorney that what you are doing is allowable and not sanctionable activity. It is in your best interests to speak to your attorney before your divorce so that you can learn the difference between the two. It would be frustrating to lose out on potential evidence for you or unknowingly delete information that could cause you to face penalties handed down by your judge.
What behaviors should you not engage in regarding divorce and technology?
From my experience, the biggest thing to avoid when it comes to technology in the context of your divorce is to consult with your attorney before doing anything that involves you taking things into your own hands. For instance, I have seen clients and opposing clients install spyware on their spouse’s computers to keep track of their activity. Spyware can keep tabs on emails sent, visited websites, passwords that are entered, etc.
This type of “spying” can expose you to severe consequences and penalties in a court of law. While it is relatively easy to obtain spyware that can allow you to know what your spouse is doing on the computer, the consequences of doing so can be severe and far-ranging. If your spouse does not know you are monitoring them, you probably break the law. The sort of tracking that I discussed earlier in the blog is almost certainly illegal to use without someone’s knowledge and consent. The evidence obtained (just like the social media postings we discussed earlier) will not be admissible into the record. More than that- you and your attorney may wind up facing severe civil and criminal penalties due to engaging in this behavior.
Interested in learning more about the role of technology in your divorce? Read more tomorrow
If this topic interests you, by all means, please return to our blog to read more about it tomorrow. We invite you to contact our office with any questions you have on this subject or any other in the field of family law. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, handles family law cases exclusively, and it would be an honor to sit down with you and discuss your case. Our licensed family law attorneys take great pride in representing the people of our community. Talk to us about your problems and questions and hear just how our office can best serve you and your family.