People’s dependence on technology is seen on smartphones, social media, cloud-based storage, transportation, parking, online shopping, streaming videos/music, food delivery, online dating and even online telemedicine. Technology controls almost every aspect of life.
As such, electronic data from these online services can become a key factor in family law cases. Electronic data can be “discovered” in court and possibly be used against you. Therefore, if you find yourself involved in a family law related dispute, consider carefully the list of Electronic Do’s and Don’ts below.
The first thing that a party to a divorce should do is immediately change his or her passwords for everything. Even just one password left unchanged could give your spouse access to your entire life. For example, as many online services operate under the “family plan” concept, your spouse could have access to your Apple ID account which would in turn give him or her access to your location, text messages, calendar, email, banking and credit cards, social media, and photos.
Spouses should remove themselves from any shared cloud-based storage plans such as iCloud and Google Cloud, as this information should not be shared during a pending litigation. Spouses should also back up important information contained in these cloud-based storage platforms.
Deleting important documents or information from the cloud won’t keep them from being discovered in court. Someone can always find and retrieve them. Further, the spoliation of electronic records (i.e. deleting, altering, or destroying electronically stored information) is a serious criminal offense.
It is important to review every app or online service used on a phone, tablet, or computer and change your passwords. You would be surprised how many services you use on a daily basis require a username and password. A spouse could access your Uber account for example and find exactly where you have been going. Further, it is important to make sure your new passwords are strong, by making them long and including a mix of character, numbers and letters. Plus they should not be passwords that could be easily guessed by your spouse. And don't make the mistake of using the same password for all accounts and services!
Social media has become the most common way we communicate with our friends and family. However, before you post a photo on any social media account, it is important to stop and think how it could affect your pending divorce case. The last thing that you want is to have one picture or post ruin your case. After you change all the passwords to your social media accounts, the second thing you should do is change your account privacy settings to the highest possible level. Talk to your friends to respect your need for privacy and to not post photos of you, to not forward any posts or tag you in photos.
It’s important to note that even if you blocked someone or limited someone’s access to your account through privacy settings, your account may be accessed in other ways. For example, your soon-to-be ex might gain access by signing on as your child. Therefore, it is imperative to limit all communications and activity on your social media accounts, and especially not discuss an ongoing case on any social media platform. Do not bad mouth your spouse on social media, do not post anything about a judge you may not care for, do not post pictures including your minor children on dating websites and do not post pictures of a new romantic partner until the case is officially over.
Lastly, if you do look at your spouse’s social media sites, you should print off or make copies of anything important as social media sites make frequent changes. Some social media sites have a feature that allows users to download all account activity, from account opening to the final status update, to a zip file. Part II of this article will be posted shortly.