A shared digital life can hurt you in divorce

| May 12, 2021 | Divorce

In a typical Orange County marriage, it can make a lot of sense to the spouses to save money by sharing digital connections with a family phone plan, streaming services, Wi-Fi passwords, backup accounts, common photo storage and on and on.

In marriage, all of that can be a cost-saving convenience. In divorce, continued use of shared digital accounts, plans and passwords can mean privacy breaches that can be damaging in court.

Risks of revelations

For instance, if you share something as ordinary as an Apple ID with a former spouse, there is a risk of revealing everything from your location and a log of your calls to your browsing history, photos, saved documents, email history and logins to your social media accounts.

People who are getting a divorce – and those who are separated – might prefer to keep those kinds of information private.

A recent UK news item shared the story of how a woman caught her boyfriend cheating when his Fitbit sent a notification to their shared account that he had burned up 500 calories between 2 and 3 a.m. Ouch.

Another possibility: a suspicious spouse intentionally snoops on the other via shared accounts to collect potentially damaging information to use in divorce proceedings.

Admissibility of cyber evidence

A recent news article discussed the admissibility in court of digital evidence. For instance, courts will often allow a call history pulled from a family phone plan to be part of the evidence in divorce litigation. After all, when you sign up for a share plan, it’s understood that you’re sharing call logs, photos and browsing histories, so there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

The same goes for email and text exchanges between spouses and publicly available social media information: they’re usually admissible.

Just as some evidence is admissible in divorce proceedings, others will violate the law and be rejected by the court.

Hanging up on a call recording

Because California is a two-party consent state, both parties in a phone call must agree to a recording of the call. A call recorded secretly by one spouse who did not get approval from the other spouse will be inadmissible.

The same will hold true for other evidence obtained through illegal activity or obtained by violating the other partner’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

Some acts of accessing data and surveillance can even put a person at risk of being charged criminally. Even though a person might feel completely justified in trying to gain information about their spouse or former spouse, it can be a good idea to consult with an attorney before accessing private data in the cloud, on a computer or in a phone.