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spy.jpgPrivate investigation firms have long offered divorce assistance as a primary service. However, these services can be very expensive and can even cost more than the legal fees associated with filing for a divorce. Because filing for a divorce often comes with financial strains, many individuals who would like to hire a private detective to spy on their spouse, simply cannot afford to do so.

SPYING ON YOUR SPOUSE IS EASIER THAN EVER

However, in recent years more and more information is communicated through email, smartphones, and social media. In fact, a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that 92 percent of lawyers had observed increases in evidence from smartphones over the past three years. The information gathered from smartphones included text messages, emails, call histories, and GPS location information.

In addition, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, spyware that was once only accessible to governments and corporations are now cheap and readily available to the general public. According to the article, companies selling GPS trackers, nanny cams, and other spy gear reported significant increases in sales. For example, BrickHouse Security reported that sales of its GPS tracker have nearly doubled each year, for the past three years. Another company, SpygearGadgets.com, said sales of their GPS tracking devices had increased 80 percent in 2012 and their nanny cams and hidden camera sales rose 40 percent.

A CALIFORNIA DIVORCE ATTORNEY CAN HELP YOU MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION

An individual who is considering filing for a divorce may want to spy on their spouse in order to obtain various kinds of evidence. Spying may reveal evidence of:

  • Hidden assets
  • Infidelity
  • Neglectful or abusive treatment of children

However, just because it is easier than ever to obtain evidence for a divorce case by spying on a spouse, doesn’t mean it is the best approach in every circumstance. An attorney can help an individual who is considering filing for a divorce to determine what evidence will be helpful and the best way to go about obtaining the information.

For instance, an individual who is considering filing for divorce may want to know whether their spouse was unfaithful during the marriage. But, this information is typically irrelevant to a divorce proceeding in California. Under California law, all divorces are considered “no fault” divorces. The individual seeking a divorce does not have to prove that their spouse did something wrong. In addition, the court will not penalize a cheating spouse by awarding them less property or requiring them to pay more support.

In addition, the privacy laws surrounding spying on a spouse are currently in flux and not clearly defined. Overzealous spying can subject an individual to stalking, wiretap, cybercrime, and trespass laws, as well as civil suits. Therefore, it is important for anyone who is considering spying on their spouse to consult with an attorney who will be able to navigate this emerging area of law.

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Social Media.jpgDivorcing couples face many pitfalls and trials during the process, both in the divorce proceedings and the emotional strife that accompanies it. In the modern age, where seemingly everyone has at least one social network account, it is easy to reconnect with childhood friends, first romances or college roommates. However, social media networks also present difficulties during a divorce where you can see pictures of your spouse looking very friendly with someone new or read his or her status update about going out to dinner with friends when you believed they could not make the children’s school event because of work.

When going through a divorce, you need to use social media very cautiously. In fact, you should assume that every tweet or status update could be used by your spouse against you. Even if you are no longer “friends” with your spouse on Facebook, “followed” by them on Twitter or “connected” to them on LinkedIn, it may still be possible for your spouse to see the information that you post. Even with your privacy settings at the highest level, the information posted may make its way back to your spouse one way or another. Mutual friends, acquaintances or family might be able to access your posts. In addition, the confusing privacy settings on sites like Facebook could lead to your information going beyond the friends you intended. For example, on Facebook, if a friend “likes,” “comments” or “shares” your status, then that person’s friends can often see the status as well.

If you do use social media and are in the midst of a divorce, then you should consider the following:

· If the thought is not too difficult, consider deleting your social media profiles. It may seem like a drastic step, but the difficulty of “rebuilding” your social network is likely much less than the cost of your spouse finding unfortunate information on your social network page or finding emotionally damaging information about your spouse’s life.

· If you cannot bring yourself to delete your social media accounts, then you should at least think twice about posting anything. While you may initially think that it is okay to post a picture of yourself giving a toast at your friend’s wedding, your spouse may argue that it is an example of heavy drinking in front of your children. Such evidence could be used by your spouse to hurt your case for custody, regardless of the truth.

· Go through your friends and followers on all of your social media accounts, carefully considering which connections to keep. You should probably remove access to anyone who you think might share your information with your spouse. It is important to remember that our spouse can subpoena anyone to testify in your divorce or custody proceedings.

· Be careful about changing privacy settings. Facebook, in particular, has a habit of changing privacy settings that could allow your information to become more widely available. Constantly checking your privacy settings can help to prevent any unintentional sharing of information.

· Never, ever, ever share conversations that you had with your attorney. Sharing your attorney’s legal advice could waive the attorney-client privilege, which could allow your private communications with your attorney to be used against you.

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Our experienced Santa Rosa divorce attorneys often explain that the standard issues that arise in a divorce proceeding relate to child custody and marital asset division. Also, it is not unusual to deal with issues of cheating during a divorce proceeding. “Cheating” can refer to many different things in this context, from extramarital affairs or “hidden” assets. In today’s digital age, it is not difficult to uncover a spouse’s possible cheating behavior, no matter what form it takes.

Given the various methods available on the Internet, smart phones and other investigatory portals, it is relatively simple for any individual to obtain sensitive records that could bring to light unflattering facts of the targeted person being investigated. These accessible modes of investigation tempt suspicious individuals, especially those in the midst of a divorce, to conduct informal detective work with the objective of uncovering cheating behavior.

However, prior to conducting such an investigation, it is vital for an individual to determine whether it is legal to find evidence of cheating behavior in this particular manner.

There are potential dangers of spying on a spouse via his/her digital life. It is possible to overstep the boundaries of privacy by obtaining information through informal digital investigations. If the boundaries have been violated, then the information obtained through such intrusive means cannot be introduced into the courtroom as legally obtained evidence. There have been instances where individuals have installed spyware software into their spouses’ computer with the intention of analyzing their every keystroke on the computer. Whether such practice is legal depends on the shared status of the computer. If the computer is shared by both spouses, then installing such spyware is deemed to be legally sound in most cases. However, it appears that California courts are inclined to deem such investigatory behavior as illegal if the computer is exclusively used by one spouse and is protected by passwords. Google.jpg

Suspicious individuals in the midst of divorce proceedings are not the only ones resorting to these methods. In today’s technologically advanced age, it is becoming common practice for divorce attorneys to use “advanced research tools” to sort through digital evidence in preparation for divorce cases.

Due to this relatively new practice of evidence collection via digital portals, laws regarding this subject matter have not yet been established. Therefore, it is imperative for an individual going through a divorce to seek the advice of an attorney in order to gauge whether or not he/she is within the legal bounds in terms of uncovering unsavory details regarding his/her spouse. Introducing evidence obtained illegally could not only put an individual in jail, but it could also put the individual in an unfavorable light with the judge of the divorce proceeding. Our Santa Rosa divorce attorneys will ensure that an individual in the midst of a divorce will not obtain evidence through illegal means.

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Safeguarding Your Internet Presence During a Divorce

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A few weeks ago our Santa Rosa divorce lawyer provided some recommendations on how clients can safeguard their online identities in order to protect themselves during turbulent divorces. Recently, an Ohio man learned firsthand how big a role Facebook can play in these difficult cases. The husband, Mark, and his wife, Elizabeth, were involved in an acrimonious divorce, child custody, and visitation case last year. They have one child together, a son, and the custody dispute has involved a great deal of emotional turmoil for both parents. Elizabeth had also lodged allegations of threats and abuse against her husband. justice.jpg

Even more trouble arose when Mark decided to use his Facebook page as an outlet for his hostile feelings towards Elizabeth. According to a USA Today article, Mark posted a comment to his page that said, among other things, “…if you are an evil vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely — all you need to do is say that you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner.” Even though Mark had taken steps to keep his page private from his wife, she found out about the post anyway, probably through a mutual friend with access to Mark’s profile.

When Elizabeth discovered what he had written, she called her attorney, who brought the matter to the court’s attention. Due to Elizabeth’s accusations of abuse, the domestic relations magistrate had previously granted her protection by ordering her soon-to-be ex to refrain from any activity that would cause his wife to experience physical or mental abuse. The magistrate determined that the Facebook rant was a violation of that order and found Mark in contempt of court. The magistrate judge told Mark that he could either post an apology or spend the next 60 days in jail. Not surprisingly, Mark chose the first option.

Our Santa Rosa divorce lawyers appreciate that this particular ruling has garnered a fair amount of media attention in the last few weeks. Attorneys and other advocates around the country have contributed to the debate over whether or not judges and magistrates should be able to threaten people with jail for what many say is a protected form of expression under the First Amendment. The husband’s attorney argued that by posting online, Mark was merely expressing himself and that his comments were not intended to cause Elizabeth any distress. In fact, Mark thought that his wife would not be able to see the comments because he had removed her as a “friend” on Facebook and blocked her from seeing his profile.

Each Northern California family law attorney at our firm appreciates that disagreement about the appropriate balance between free speech principles and effects on divorce will continue to rage in the coming years. In any event, the story demonstrates how essential it is to not only protect your social media profiles during a divorce but also to take the time to think before posting anything derogatory about your spouse. All too often, especially in cases that involve intense emotion and conflict, internet posts can come back to haunt a spouse with severe (and unwanted) consequences.

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facebook.jpgIn the midst of divorce, property rights, use of accounts, custody arrangements, and other issues become legal matters–rather than just private affairs. That is why a heightened level of personal scrutiny is always demanded during divorce proceedings. There is no way to keep emotions out of the process, but it is important to understand the legal ramifications of actions during marriage dissolution which are often fueled by emotion.

For example, our Santa Rosa divorce attorneys often remind residents that when you are involved in divorce proceedings it is extremely important to properly manage your social media presence and internet personality. If children are involved it is likely important to be careful about social media issues even after the divorce. In this context, “social media” is used expansively. It includes everything from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and personal blogs to email messages, online message boards, and text messages.

Social media in divorce cases is becoming an increasingly useful weapon, especially when children are involved. A recent attorney survey from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) found that 81% of attorneys were using evidence that had been gleaned from social media sites. This evidence can influence spousal support or child custody decisions.

California child custody laws focus on the best interests of the child. This usually includes a look at whether a parent is willing and able to help his or her child maintain a good relationship with the other parent. Public displays of animosity against another parent on a social media site can be harmful when it comes to determining child custody arrangements. Additionally, the social life of the parent can be a factor in the custody decision. Posting pictures of a night out with friends or other social activity may raise questions about a parent’s actions or contradict previous statements which may influence a judicial determination. Even though it may be completely innocent behavior, comments and images gleaned from these social media sites can paint a deceptive picture. This is especially true in the courtroom where the only thing the judge has to go on is the evidence presented to him or her–they do not know those in front of them personally.

Many people incorrectly believe that their information will be protected as long as they block their spouse and his or her close friends from seeing what they post. However, as individuals have discovered in a wide range of situations–including divorce–it is incredibly difficult to keep things private once they are posted online. It is always best to simply assume that anything sent in an email or put onto a social media site may eventually be seen by everyone.

Considering the potential pitfalls, sometimes the it is best to disable social media pages entirely for the duration of the divorce proceedings. Most social media sites allow you to disable your page so that it will not be available for anyone to see. This also usually prevents all others from locating your page via searches but does not require you to permanently delete previously posted information.

For the same reason, it is important to avoid saying anything in email and text messages that might come back to haunt you later. Even if you trust the person to whom you are writing, you simply cannot be sure that messages will stay private. Always try to write everything with an assumption that it will eventually become public, and try to imagine ways that it could be used against you. You cannot be too careful when it comes to social media and your internet presence during a divorce or child custody dispute. If you are in doubt about how a message or action may affect a proceeding always ask for guidance from your divorce lawyer or other legal professional.

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