Understanding how technology can affect divorce cases is becoming increasingly important for family law attorneys – from how mobile apps can be used as divorce spyware to the hazards of unwise social media posts.
I advise my clients to be aware of how they use social media, to know which accounts are still shared with their future ex-spouses, and to be savvy about passwords.
I want them to know what spoliation of electronic evidence means, which is the improper destruction of evidence that could be relevant during divorce proceedings. This could be deleting text messages and emails, data from spreadsheets, calendar data, word process documents, and social media account posts.
Trying to delete such data can backfire; for instance, there are programs that can retrieve deleted messages, when considered relevant by an opposing attorney. And the court is not likely to look kindly on what appears to be obstruction. Internet searches also can be exposed through forensic software. You don’t want to have to explain why you were looking up “how to delete emails.” Or expect a judge to necessarily understand that your phone was “lost” or damaged right before you were supposed to produce text messages.
Another issue to consider about technology and divorce – you may want to put social media accounts on pause. Disabling an account is not the same as deleting an account. Once the divorce is final, the accounts can be reactivated. But pausing them is a safe step. It prevents you from posting anything unwise during a time when you’re emotionally stressed, or having your spouse hear about your activities (or follow them directly) when you need privacy.
Could your spouse use spyware to track your movements or access video and audio that show what you’re doing and saying? This can happen through mobile apps that control home security systems, which can be remotely accessed for both live video/audio and recordings, or through mobile location services. For instance, Friends and Family Sharing on iPhones can send notification alerts about where a family member goes, along with times and dates. A shared iCloud account can pinpoint the other person’s location, and reveal their emails and photographs. To maintain privacy and possibly your safety, disconnect devices from iCloud, change passwords, deactivate tracking software.
I’m most concerned about the type of spyware that can be attached remotely to mobile phones or computers that track keyboard movements and activate cell phone cameras and microphones. This is a malicious use of technology that is easier to prevent (i.e., change passwords, don’t click on phishing links) than remove retroactively, which can be very costly.
Another malicious use of technology during divorce – revenge porn – is against the law in Florida. It’s illegal to post illicit photographs of someone as a way to cause them humiliation and harm.
I also advise clients to be aware of laws about recording conversations. It’s easy to click “record” on your cell phone – you may be hoping to catch your spouse saying something incriminating, but this is not a good idea. In Florida, consent is required from both parties for recording conversations.
As technology becomes more sophisticated and increasingly prevalent, how it will affect the divorce process grow in importance. A knowledgeable attorney who can advise you of these issues is good to have on your side.
Jeanne Coleman is a highly experienced family law attorney who bases her practice on guiding clients to renewed lives after divorce. For a free consultation, call 813-253-2820.