One of the parts of a divorce case that is changed in the past few decades has been the risk of bad behavior on the part of spouses regarding the use of electronic devices like cell phones and computers. While technology has certainly aided ask in many areas of life and has been especially helpful during this pandemic, the reality is that technology can also be a source of harm for many families. I have seen more than one divorce become contentious due to issues regarding electronics and how they have harmed families in the ruined marriages.
When it comes to using computers on the Internet in general divorce courts restrict the use of the two necessary actions and things of that nature. A family court judge will not want you or your spouse to be able to use the computer to harm the other person during your divorce case. However, that does not stop you or your spouse from using the computer for wrongdoing before the beginning of a case. This gives both parties to a divorce ample opportunity 2 set the tone for a case in a negative light. With that said, if you are considering a divorce Benny needs to be aware of how the use of electronic devices can influence your case.
Even if you are not currently planning on getting a divorce then you still need to be aware of how your spouse can and possibly has used technology to harm you in some regard. In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, I would like to share with you my thoughts on how you can protect yourself and your family from a spouse who may be using technology to harm you or your children. Just as we have seen an increase of situations involving children being bullied using electronic means adults are oftentimes no better than children when it comes to using technology to do wrongful acts.
Logging onto a computer and checking your spouse’s email
The thing about using a computer to perform nefarious acts is that you do not have to be a cybercriminal or computer hacker to do so. If you know how to turn on a computer to access your spouse’s email account then you have everything it takes to not only break the trust of your spouse but also break the law. It is illegal to access another person’s electronic Mail in Texas without that person’s permission. If your spouse is doing this to you then he or she is breaking the law. Even though accessing another person’s email without their permission is illegal it isn’t as if you see squad cars pulling up to suburban homes and arresting people for having done so.
What this means is that you need to be the enforcer of the law in your own home. I don’t mean that you should be making a citizen’s arrest on your spouse if you find out that he or she has been getting into your email and reading the contents of messages sent to you. What I do mean is that you should take simple precautions against the ability of your spouse 2 to read your Mail in a literal sense.
A simple thing that you can do from a security perspective as far as not allowing your spouse to access your Mail easily would be to frequently change your password. Even if your spouse knows your email address, which is pretty likely, that doesn’t mean that he or she would automatically know what your password is. There are two simple ways that I can think of which would prevent your spouse from being able to quickly and easily access your electronic mail to read what people are sending to you. Let’s walk through each of those ways right now.
The first would be to simply change your password to your email account frequently. I know that this can seem like a pain in the rear end but the reality is that if you have worked at a big company or for the government you are likely familiar with frequently updating your passwords. You can set up a reminder on your phone for every week or two weeks to change the password on your email account. Not only would this be wise to do regarding issues with your spouse reading your Mail but it is wise to do in general. You never know who is trying to hack into your computer or access your information.
Related to the advice of updating your password frequently would be to not save your passwords on your computer or phone. Again, it is very convenient to be able to save your passwords on the computer that you frequently used. That way you do not have to manually enter in a password every time you want to access your email or a particular website. However, this is also a dangerous practice because anyone who has access to your phone or computer can then get into your private information with relative ease. Simply do not allow your computer or phone to save passwords for you and will eliminate a huge risk of her spouse being able to engage in this type of behavior.
Let’s now assume that the advice I just gave you finds them too late and your spouse has already been able to access your email. He or she believes that they see electronic Mail that puts you in an unfavorable light. He or she either takes screenshots, makes PDF documents out of the emails, or simply prints them out and stores them in a private location. Once your divorce gets going he or she essentially tries to use those emails against you almost in a blackmail-type situation. You go to your attorney and ask him or her but the potential consequences of these emails finding the light of day are. What would he or she tell you about those emails?
There are important ways that these emails may yet be kept out of consideration of a judge or jury in your temporary orders hearing or trial. The first is because the opposing attorney will need to have those emails admitted into evidence. This is an important lesson for many areas of your case not just regarding emails. Both you and your opposing party will need to offer into evidence particular Exhibits in hopes of their being admitted as evidence. Therefore, having a judge considered those emails is not as simple as their spouse bringing them to court and dropping them on the desk of the judge.
To admit them into evidence this would need to occur over the objection of your attorney. Several objections could be offered to prevent emails from being admitted into evidence. What your attorney will be trying to do when making objections would be to have the judge questioned the reliability and authenticity of the emails. If a judge came to find that the evidence was acquired illegally then it is highly unlikely that the emails would be admitted into evidence.
The point I am trying to get across to you is that even if your spouse can access your email without your permission it is very unlikely that those emails would ever be able to see the light of day in a temporary orders hearing or trial. However, that does not mean that you should be any less careful about allowing access to your email without your permission. Never assume that the contents of your email that were accessed illegally could not negatively influence your divorce case. Always take precautions to guard against illegal access to your electronic Mail.
Software back in track your computer usage
Just about everyone who uses the Internet is familiar with how whatever website browser you use will track the websites that you frequent. Many website browsers in Internet browsers will allow you to go into the private mode or something similar to allow you to surf the web without having your Internet usage come under the search history of the computer. However, this does not mean that there will be no record of your Internet searches somewhere on the computer. This is especially true if you’re spouse uses some sort of software to track your computer usage or keystrokes.
Again, for most of us, this technology is not something that is out of a science fiction novel. Many of your employers probably utilized technology like this whether they tell you or not. I can tell you from my own employment experiences that I always assume that everything I say in an email for every website that I access at the workplace will be checked and a record will be maintained of the websites that I utilized. If you are going through difficult marital times or even if you merely suspect that your spouse is engaging in behavior that is less than ideal you should be wary of your spouse tracking your Internet usage or keystrokes, as well.
This puts you in a difficult position you have only one computer in the house and do not want your spouse to be able to learn how, why or when you were on the computer. Your computer usage may be completely benign but it would be understandable to not want another person to see exactly what you were doing on the computer. I have even seen spouses tell their partners that the purpose of this spying software was to make sure their children weren’t accessing inappropriate material. There are ways to verify whether or not this type of software is on your computer and you can speak to one of our licensed family law attorneys about how to determine what actions to take should you find out that your spouse is engaging in behavior of this sort.
What sort of electronic information is usable in a Texas divorce?
Despite what you may be thinking at this point there is online information that is especially relevant and admissible in a Texas divorce. Let’s spend some time discussing how various types of digital evidence may be at issue in your divorce. The old standby as far as evidence for a divorce case is text messages. I cannot tell you how many times I have met with potential clients and new clients of the Law Office of Bryan Fagan and when that first meeting occurs the person will come into our office with a briefcase full of print-out text messages from their spouse. If given enough time and enough messaging you may be surprised to learn how creative people can get one trying to think up theories or stories behind the meaning of text messages.
Keep in mind that if your spouse sends something to you over a text message then that text message is likely admissible into evidence. Messages that other people send you may not be admissible under the hearsay rule but because your spouse is a party to the divorce the hearsay rule would not apply. Therefore, you can expect that text message evidence would be admissible and relevant to your divorce.
Based on this, you should proceed with caution when sending text messages. If you need to have a difficult conversation or talk to your spouse about a sensitive subject I would do so in person when not over the phone or via text message. We have already seen how text messaging can be used to memorialize information. Everything you say to your spouse via text messages stored on the phone and in the data history. Therefore it is difficult to argue your way out of a message that had been sent previously.
Even a telephone call to your spouse can be recorded without your permission. In Texas, it is legal for your spouse to record a conversation as long as he or she nose about the recording. He or she does not have to tell you that her phone call is being recorded for it to be done legally. Ask such, it is simply just to have a face-to-face conversation and to not risk having your words turned against you in the future.
The other type of online activity that is very usable in a divorce is postings from social media. As more and more people use social media to document almost every event of their lives, write down mundane details about meals eaten or family get-togethers went to, we see family law attorneys beginning to use this sort of evidence more and more in hearings and trials. I can tell you that every attorney with our law office will perform basic social media searches of an opposing party right off the bat to see what may be out there as far as bad behavior or suspicious activity.
There are a few lessons that you should take into consideration when it comes to social media activity in the context of a divorce. Any social media activity during the divorce is foolish, in my opinion. You stand to gain very little from posting on social media in any context but especially in a divorce. Your spouse and their attorney will be watching your online behavior like a Hawk and a status update or post about a particular topic can be enough to sync your case. I have even seen parties to a divorce post online complaints about the divorce court judge after a, particularly difficult hearing. If that information is brought before a judge you can almost be assured to be found in contempt of court and will suffer significant consequences along the way.
I would recommend making your Facebook page private once you begin to think that a divorce is upcoming. Your standing orders or temporary orders may prevent you from outright deleting your profile in any post you have made during the case. But putting yourself into the private mode or preventing other people from accessing your information may at least be a temporary wall against snooping by your spouse or their attorney. You can always wait to post on social media until your divorce is over. Finding another outlet for frustration during a divorce, as an exercise, would be more productive than going online to post updates about your case.
You do not need to be intimidated or scared of Internet usage during your divorce. Your spouse probably isn’t snooping or spying on every move you make regarding computer use. However, that does not mean that your spouse isn’t among the few that engage in suspicious online behavior in snooping. That also doesn’t mean that you are online behavior can’t be legitimately used against you in your divorce. For that reason, I always recommend that discretion be used one performing online activity during your divorce. Secondly, I recommend speaking to an experienced family law attorney if you suspect that your spouse is spying on you.
Questions about the material presented in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
Have any questions about the material presented in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.