Protect Yourself from Big Brother: Technology & Family Law Litigation

Divorce and child custody cases are often down-right nasty.   One or both individuals to the litigation are often desperate to destroy the other, whether it be emotionally or financially, or to cause damage to the other person’s reputation, going to extreme measures to do so. While on their quest of destruction, often, an individual is unaware that their tactics are illegal, but once the acts are committed, the damage to the other person may be irreparable.  It’s like any other crime: the behavior is illegal, for example murder, but once the murder is committed, no amount of court reprieve will revive the victim.

In family law, the crimes are often less obvious and occur in connection with technology.  The person engaging in the illegal activity may not realize he or she is actually committing a crime; and often, the victim does not know they are a victim, until the damage is done.

There are laws which make certain surveillance-type behaviors illegal, such non-consensual wiretapping, use of recording devices to record confidential communications, accessing another person’s computer data, including emails and photographs, tracking devices, and pretexting (often via impersonation), to name a few.  Though the activity is illegal, often no criminal prosecution occurs and by the time it is proven that the person engaged in illegal behavior, it is too late to repair the destruction; the information has been obtained and is being used in the divorce or custody case to bring about havoc to the other person’s livelihood, emotional state, or reputation.

Rather than attempting to clean up the damage from this destructive (and often illegal) behavior, it is best to be proactive and attempt to protect yourself from ever being the victim of a technology crime.  Here are some hot tips:

  1. Open a new, private email account with an unusual password.
  2. Keep a separate, private email account for all communications with your attorney.
  3. Turn off location/GPS services on your phone, IPad and all Apple products.
  4. Change all passwords on cell phones, Xboxes, play stations, IPad, computers, and other digital devices.
  5. Change passwords to online banking, credit cards and online shopping accounts.
  6. Change passwords to all social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  7. Keep a low online profile: Be vigilant with your social media. Make your profile private (or better yet, stop using it, as even friends sometimes share information intentionally or unintentionally with others), and stop posting pictures, status updates, or “check-ins” to various locations.
  8. Block or “unfriend” the individual on the other side of your litigation, the individual’s family members or their close friends.
  9. Be careful who you “friend” or add to access or view your social media sites.
  10. Review the privacy settings of your social media accounts to ensure that your privacy is properly protected and customized to your needs.
  11. Hire a private investigator to “sweep” your home, office, computers, electronic devices and car for any tracking, listening or video devices.

While technology is amazing, making life much simpler each day, technology can create new problems in litigation, especially in the realm of family law.  Thus, technology is no doubt a double-edged sword: while it brings you closer to the people, places and things you love, it can also be used against you in divorce and custody cases with a direct intention to cause irreparable harm.  The best way to manage the risks technology poses is to be proactive to eliminate or minimize the risk; to head it off at the pass; and to not allow that “bell to be rung”.