25 Jan Privacy Issues in a Divorce in California
Divorce can get nasty. In this electronic age, prying into one’s spouse’s or ex-spouse’s digital records, emails and financial records may seem a good idea when trying to get one over your spouse in the final stages of a looming divorce. However, this can backfire on you unless getting access to important data is done legally. If you are thinking about accessing your spouse’s data in order to obtain evidence that could prove useful in winning your case in a dispute over property, spousal support or custody arrangements, it is best to talk to an experienced family law attorney first.
Using your spouse’s passwords to access information held by your spouse
It’s not uncommon for spouses to know each other’s passwords for things like email accounts, social media accounts and bank accounts but is it legal to use that knowledge to access those accounts without your spouse’s knowledge or approval? What might have been considered acceptable when the relationship was well established might definitely not be acceptable when it is on the rocks. It’s unlikely that your spouse or ex-spouse would give you permission to use personal passwords to access private information.
More importantly, you could actually be breaking the law. Both the federal and California state governments have laws that make it illegal to access electronic records without permission. Of federal laws, the ones that specifically prohibit this sort of behavior include the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the Stored Communications Act (SCA) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). State laws mirror these federal laws.
Much of the information you are seeking, usually to prove a point about spousal support payments and custody payments as well as property distribution, may be made available in the normal course of legal action when it comes to discovery. It is far better to talk to your attorney about information which you think may be valuable rather than ending up in jail!
How about keylogger software or a GPS tracker?
Keylogger software is used to record a computer’s activity. If it is used on your spouse or ex-spouse’s computer without their permission, it may very well reveal interesting information which could be valuable when assembling evidence in a legal dispute but it could again be breaking the law. In this case, you could be charged with an offense under the ECPA as mentioned above, if you are found out.
In the case of a GPS tracker, this is specifically prohibited in California unless it is installed on a vehicle that is jointly owned and the other owner, i.e. the person whose movements you wish to monitor, gives you permission.
The fact that you have fitted a tracker to monitor movement could be construed as an invasion of privacy and an example of harassment and should therefore be avoided.
What about accessing a spouse or ex-spouse’s financial data stored on a laptop?
It can be hard work proving that your spouse or soon to be ex-spouse has more money or income than has been stated in a legal dispute during a divorce, but you may know for sure that the information you seek is stored on a particular laptop’s hard driver. How can you access it legally and avoid breaking he laws already mentioned?
The main ways that this might be done are to submit a sub-poena or a request for inspection. This will only be allowed by the court if you can justify why such a search may be relevant to the legal case you are fighting. The Court is likely to take a dim view of such a request unless the reason for doing so is obviously related to the case. For example, if you have children and you are fighting what you feel is an unfair claim for child support, then such a request might have traction if you think that you can prove that your ex-spouse has more money available than he or she has let on.
Talk to a family law attorney before you act rashly
The best advice is to talk to an experienced attorney before letting yourself be exposed to possible illegal actions. You may otherwise be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. You can make an appointment for a free consultation with a family law attorney at the Law Offices of Damian Nolan in Lakewood or Long Beach California – Phone 562-634-1115.