Technology has changed the way most of us do business, communicate with friends and family, and conduct our social lives. It’s also changed the face of divorce.
Divorcing couples face two kinds of digital peril: high-tech sleuthing and social media – both of which are now easier than ever to access, use and misuse.
SPY VS. SPY
“Just because you can spy on your spouse doesn’t mean that you should,” says Jeff Anderson, name partner in the Dallas Family Law boutique Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, L.L.P. “A lot of spy gear you can buy online is illegal in Texas, and I don’t want my client to be charged with invasion of privacy just because they were trying to catch their spouse cheating.”
Is it OK to read a spouse’s emails? Can you install hidden cameras in the living room? What about the bedroom? What about GPS tracking devices on cars?
In each of those cases, says Orsinger Nelson name partner Keith Nelson, it may be illegal to use those devices, or it may be perfectly legal. It all depends on the particular circumstances.
“My best recommendation is to talk to your lawyer before you do any high-tech snooping on your spouse,” he says. “Because technology changes so fast, so does the law. What’s permissible today may not be permissible tomorrow.”
THINK TWICE BEFORE THAT STATUS UPDATE
Even more common than amateur spies, however, are indiscreet users of social media. Family lawyers have a love-hate relationship with websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They love it when their client’s ex uses poor judgment and drops a smoking gun in their laps, but they hate it when their own clients perform that service for their opponents.
“Bright, educated professionals can become like scorned teenagers during a divorce,” says Orsinger Nelson name partner Scott Downing. He advises divorcing spouses to stop using their social media sites altogether during divorce and to change their privacy settings to disable others from being able to “tag” them at events and in photos.
“A judge may or may not care if you’re seen at a party holding a drink, but why would you risk it?” he says.
THE UPSIDE OF TECHNOLOGY IN DIVORCE
Technology may offer plenty of downsides to divorcing couples, but as we all know, there can be benefits as well. Skype and FaceTime can help non-custodial parents maintain their ties with their children between visits by making “face-to-face” visits part of their nightly routine. Facebook and other networking sites can also help fractured families stay in touch long after the divorce is final.
“Like most tools, technology can be used for good as well as for bad,” says Orsinger Nelson name partner Richard Orsinger. “I advise my clients to think twice and ask themselves what the judge in their case would have to say about what they’re about to do or post on social media. That’s usually a good guide.”