Using Cell Phone Voice Messages in Custody Disputes

Should you keep a record of those angry cell phone voice messages from your ex? 

Article updated March 12, 2024 by Tracy Achen

It’s worth considering if you are fighting for custody. For example, a famous actor embroiled in a bitter custody dispute left an angry voicemail berating his daughter and ex. It went viral and the actor was temporarily barred from seeing his daughter after the judge in the case listened to it.

While most voicemails won’t make the news, it does illustrate how advances in technology can introduce evidence into child custody battles. In some situations, this evidence can point out character flaws that aren't always obvious to the courts.

Can cell phone voice messages be used in custody disputes?

The following information about copying cell phone voice messages can come in handy if you are gathering evidence for a custody case.

Voicemail Messages May Influence Court Custody Decisions... Will You Be Ready?

According to Howard Richman from VoiceMail Saver

If you've ever considered recording your phone conversations, you know that it is illegal unless you get the other person's permission. Ironically, if you are trying to capture angry, hysterical, threatening or scary conversations from someone, this would defeat the purpose, because they most likely would never agree to be recorded! And even if you did make a recording, because it is illegal, it would not be admissible in court! (There are exceptions, so please see the footnotes at the bottom of this article).

But, if this type of person leaves a message on your voicemail, it is understood that they are being recorded. Therefore, it is more likely that this would be allowed in a court situation to support your divorce or custody case. Each situation and jurisdiction is different regarding these matters, so we cannot say that in every case, the voicemails would be allowed in court, but we can say that it is more likely than secretly recording a phone conversation.

If you have cell phone voice messages that you think would help you in court, you probably have been saving them every few days. If you didn't, you know that your service will erase them permanently after 30 days. The problem is that eventually, you have saved so many messages that there is no room for more messages. This frustrates everyone and makes the angry caller suspicious.

So, that leaves us with the question of "how do I get these voicemail messages onto a CD or other storage format so they can be preserved?"

How to Preserve Voicemail Messages

Voicemail Backup Apps: Most cellphones come pre-installed with a visual voicemail app. While these apps don't save the voicemail on your phone, they make it easy to download the message to your phone. To do this, you just need to

  1. Select the voicemail you want to save, then
  2. Tap the three dots to access the app menu, then
  3. Look for a "Save," "Export," or a similar option. This action may vary by app and carrier.
  4. You can then send the voicemail to your email or save it to your computer by hooking up your phone to the computer and accessing the file to save it.

Use a VoIP Service: VoIP or "Voice Over Internet Protocol" is where you have your computer call your voicemail and record the message directly onto their system. Some of the major VoIP providers are Google Voice, Ring Central, Vonage, and Grasshopper. Each service has different methods of transferring the saved voicemails to your computer, so you'll need to read their specific instructions.

Record Voicemails to Your Computer. You can record voicemails on Android phones to your computer. To do this, both your phone and your computer will need to have a headphone jack. You'll also need a male-to-male headphone cord, which you will plug into the phone's headphone jack and the computers headphone-in jack. You will also need simple recording software that may already be available on your computer, such as Windows Voice Recorder. After everything is hooked up:

  1. Open the recording software
  2. Open the voice mail on your phone and click "Start recording,"
  3. Click the play button on the voicemail,
  4. Click "Stop recording" after the voicemail reaches the end and click "Play" to make sure it recorded correctly,
  5. Save the audio file, preferably with the date the voicemail was left and a descriptive title

Receive Voicemail as an Email Attachment. This is where you sign up for a third-party service such as Grasshopper or Callhippo that has a feature that will literally grab your voicemail and send it to you as an mp3 in an email attachment.

Low-tech Tips for Recording Cell Phone Voice Messages

I recently received an email at WomansDivorce from one of our readers that offers another method for recording those cell phone voice messages. Thanks for the tip, Em!

I work for AT&T on the cellular side, and have certainly run across the problem with saving cell phone voice messages before. The easiest and most cost-effective way for most single moms who don't have a lot of money to spend on third party applications and may not have the patience to figure it all out is to go out and buy an inexpensive tape or digital recorder at the store.

They can put their phone on speaker, call their voicemail, and hit record when their messages start playing. It's fast, it's simple, and while it may not get it to CD, it's a heckuva lot better than possibly losing the message in the digital void.

If you want to include an advanced bit here, you can just use the headphone jack to plug into the line in on the back of the computer, and use the standard Sound Recorder to get it transferred to a .wav file, which can then be transferred to a jump drive or a CD. I work tech support, and I can tell you that I've had women crying when I walk them through this. They had no clue it could be done so easily!

Using Voicemail Recordings in Court

Different jurisdictions have different rules regarding the use of voicemail recordings as evidence in a custody trail. It is best to consult with your lawyer or the court whether this type of evidence will be allowed or not. If such recordings are admissible, you'll likely need to transfer the recordings to a CD, jump drive, or a digital recorder that can be played in court.

Generally, cellphones are not allowed in the courtroom. If this is the case, you may want to ask the courtroom clerk what options are available to play recordings. If the court doesn't have the necessary equipment, you can ask for permission to bring your own laptop or other device.

It is also a good idea to have a transcript of the recording. You will likely also need to provide a copy to the other party before the court hearing.

To enter the recording into evidence, you need to:

  1. Enter the CD, jump drive, or digital recorder into evidence with the clerk (if required).
  2. Provide proof that a copy of the recordings was made available to the other party and when.
  3. Provide details regarding when the voicemail message was left and who left the voicemail.
  4. If you transcribed the voicemail, explain how it was done and testify that it is an accurate transcription of the voicemail.
  5. Explain how the voicemail message supports your claims and ask the judge to admit the recording into evidence.

In Conclusion...

Regular phone calls generally can’t be legally recorded without consent and used as evidence in court. But in the case of voicemails, the person leaving the message is aware that the message is being recorded.

Angry or threatening voicemails can provide valuable insight into the emotional stability and temperament of the other parent. The authenticity and emotional nuances captured in a voicemail can provide invaluable insight into the dynamics of the family relationships, aiding in the determination of custody arrangements.

If you’re in the middle of a custody battle, it makes sense to preserve any angry or disparaging voicemails left by the other parent. It's also a good idea to have a skilled attorney representing you who can help ensure the evidence presented is not only compelling but also admissible in court.


Recorded phone conversations may be used as evidence in some states if they were legally recorded. Since each state has different laws on the subject, it's best to consult with a lawyer before recording phone conversations. For more in-depth information on the subject, check out the following resources:

A Practical Guide to Taping Phone Calls and In-Person Conversations in the 50 States and D.C.

United States Code: Title 18,2511. Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications

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