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Melissa A. Featherston

Protecting your online information during divorce

If you're in the process of divorcing, the information on your and your spouse's electronic devices can be valuable for a variety of reasons. It can provide evidence of hidden assets, behavior that could affect child custody or spousal support and untrue statements that a spouse made in court documents.

Of course, many people harm their case by the information they post openly on social media. That's why many attorneys warn their clients to stay off Twitter, Facebook and similar sites during their divorce.

What right to privacy do people have to the information on their computers and electronic devices? Can lawyers use information that their clients were able to obtain by accessing the devices or accounts by knowing the passwords and security questions?

If one spouse obtains this information through less-than-honest means, such as installing malware to gain log-in information, it likely won't be admissible in court. However, if a text or email goes to a device that the other spouse or one of the kids has, and the spouse sees it that way, that may be another matter.

That's why family law attorneys often recommend that their clients immediately take steps to safeguard their digital privacy. Among these:

-- Create a new email account

-- Change passwords on non-joint accounts, and perhaps even provide false answers to security questions, e.g., your mother's maiden name, so that the other spouse can't access them.

-- Turn off tracking on their phones.

-- Ensure that online calendars are no longer shared with your spouse.

While some people might not feel that such measures are necessary, it's better to err on the side of caution. If they're your personal accounts, there's no legitimate reason why your estranged spouse should need to access them. You never know what can and will be used against you.

Source: New York Times, "In a Divorce, Who Gets Custody of Electronic Data? The Lawyers," Jonah Engel Bromwich and Daniel Victor, Oct. 31, 2016

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