Technology and divorce are beautiful things ... especially for divorce lawyers! Social media can provide endless fodder for court room drama. Technology can help lawyers access information they could never have gotten before.
Together, social media, technology and divorce are a match made in heaven. … unless you want to have a reasonably amicable and inexpensive divorce! Then they’re a match made in hell!
The same is true if you’re already embroiled in an ugly divorce. Being part of a courtroom battle gives you even more reason to be careful with technology AND social media. The evidence that your spouse can get and use against you by using technology is growing every day.
That’s why most divorce lawyers will tell you to be careful with technology while you’re going through a divorce. And, as for social media, they’ll tell you to just stay off that altogether.
Yet, in today’s world, technology is everywhere. Avoiding it is impossible. So the question is: how can you avoid making stupid mistakes with technology, and use technology FOR you in your divorce, instead of having it used against you?
Understanding the Basics of Technology and Divorce
Technology is a powerful tool in divorce. Lawyers can use it to prove a case for you or against you. Technology can help you find hidden assets or discover your spouse’s affair. It can also be used to track your movements, spy on your online activity, and wipe out a bank account in a nano second.
Yet technology, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It’s a tool. The way you use that tool is what can make the technology a sword or a shield.
To keep technology from being used against you, your first (and most important!) step is to be careful!
4 Tips to Keep Technology from Being Used Against You in Divorce
While you can find plenty of examples of spouses cyber-spying or cyber-stalking each other in a divorce, the vast majority of technology issues in divorce arise from careless mistakes. To avoid making those mistakes, here are 4 simple technology tips every divorcing person should follow.
1. Change Your Passwords!
Once you or your spouse has started the divorce process you are no longer a couple.
That means you need to start establishing yourself as an independent entity. You also need to start thinking about your privacy in ways that you may not have had to do while you were married.
That means changing your passwords on all of your individual financial accounts, email accounts, social media accounts, and any other online accounts in your name. Even if you think your spouse doesn’t know your passwords, change them anyway. (Periodically changing your passwords improves your online security anyway!)
The trickier question is whether to change the passwords on your joint accounts.
If you and your spouse have always shared the passwords for your joint accounts in the past, then suddenly changing the passwords to your joint account without talking to your spouse first can cause a lot of problems.
Your spouse will immediately think you’re hiding something. S/he may think you’re stealing money from her/him. S/he will also probably be very suspicioius about what's going on.
If your divorce is amicable, the smartest thing to do BEFORE you change the passwords to any joint account is to talk with your spouse. JOINTLY decide how you want to handle things in advance.
Then keep your word. Trust that spouse will keep his/her word. AND check your accounts as often as you need to make sure your money hasn’t disappeared or been spent on unusual things. (As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust … but verify!)
2. Be Careful with Your Cell Phone!
Incriminating text messages can be devastating evidence in court.
If you send a vulgar, angry, or threatening text to your ex (or STBX), you have just created evidence that can be used against you.
It doesn’t matter that you didn’t really mean what you said. It doesn’t matter if your spouse knew you weren’t serious. What matters is what the judge will think when your spouse shows him/her your text messages.
The same thing can be true if your messages aren’t necessarily horrible, but you send 5,000 of them to your spouse in one day!
Barraging your spouse with crazy text messages can be considered to be harassment.
It doesn’t matter that your spouse purposely ignored your texts. It doesn’t matter that you needed an answer immediately. There is no reason why you have to text your spouse ten times a minute.
But angry texting isn’t the only way your cell phone can get you in trouble.
If you leave your cell phone lying around, it can provide your spouse with a TON of information you’d rather they didn’t know. While that information may (or may not!) be admissible in court, that’s not the point.
Once your spouse knows where to look, finding evidence they can use against you is usually easy.
What do you think is going to happen to your divorce if your spouse finds pictures of you and your new “friend” at a romantic dinner together? If your cell phone is connected to your email, what information can your spouse find there? What kind of information is in your text messages?
The bottom line is that being careless with your cell phone can give your spouse access to a ton of information they might not be able to get any other way.
3. Be Careful With Your Computer
It doesn’t take a computer genius to track the browsing history on your computer. If you and your spouse share a computer, or if you have a family computer, make sure to erase your browsing history if you’ve looked at websites you don’t want your spouse to know about. (NOTE: This includes the websites of divorce lawyers you’ve consulted with!)
You also need to be conscious of what devices are synced with what.
If you gave your child an iPad that uses YOUR Apple account, then then your text messages and emails just might show up on your child’s iPad. (Oops!)
Finally, if your spouse is technologically adept, s/he can install software on your computer that can track your every keystroke. With the right software and tech skills, our spouse can literally watch everything you do online. That includes tracking every website you visited, every instant message you sent or received, and every document you opened.
Before you freak out, know that only a small percentage of spouses actually do cyber-stalk their ex or STBX. According to a Department of Justice report, 3.3% of divorced or separated spouses cyber-stalked their spouse or ex. Also, cyber-spying and cyber-stalking may be a crime. The problem is that the law in this area is often unclear.
If you think your spouse has installed spyware in your personal computer, talk to your lawyer immediately. You’ll probably have to take your computer to a specialist to have the computer examined and the spyware removed. In some cases, you may even need to take your computer to the police.
No matter what you do, though, if you think your spouse has installed spyware on your computer, stop using that computer as soon as possible!
4. Be Careful With Your Car.
Your car’s vehicle transponder is trackable. That means that there is a record of everywhere you drive your car. While your spouse may have to subpoena your Tollway authority to get those records, issuing that subpoena is easy to do.
What’s even easier is tracking the GPS in your cellphone.
Most of us take our cellphones with us everywhere we go. If you’ve activated the “Find my cellphone” feature on your phone (or your spouse activated it for you!) tracking your movements can be crazy easy.
The bottom line is that when you’re going through a divorce you need to be careful (and/or honest!) about what you do.
If you’re lying to your spouse about an affair you’re having, but your cellphone shows that you’re spending the night at some strange house every second day, you’re going to have a problem.
Finally, if your spouse is trying to control or intimidate you, s/he may have installed a tracking device in your car. Those devices can be hard to find – especially when you don’t know what you’re looking for.
But, if your spouse seems to always know where you’re at, or if s/he “accidentally” shows up in the same places you’re at, that’s reason to be suspicious. If you’re in doubt about whether your spouse is tracking you, have a good mechanic check your car out.
The Bottom Line When it Comes To Technology and Divorce
Technology can make going through a divorce more scary and overwhelming than it’s ever been before.
But it doesn’t have to do that.
Most of the problems that technology creates in divorce can be managed by simply being careful. (Unless, of course, you’re married to a techno-geek who’s determined to make you suffer. Then, admittedly, technology can be used to make your life a living hell.)
Either way, the simple truth is that we all live in a wired world. It’s virtually impossible to escape using technology in your life OR in your divorce. Because of that you have to be careful and you have to be smart.
If you stay on top of your divorce, manage your technology carefully, and get appropriate help when you need it, you can avoid most of the problems that befall those who ignore what it means to get a divorce in today’s world.
This article was originally posted on September 24, 2014 and updated on October 16, 2022.