The digital age has revolutionized the way we examine evidence in divorce proceedings. Increasingly, things like texts and Facebook posts are used to decide matters of property division and even child custody. On the other hand, this kind of evidence raises interesting questions about what should be allowed or permissible with regard to divorce. Specifically, is it legal to spy on your spouse? What qualifies as spying under the law? Here’s what you need to know.
Federal Wiretapping Laws
Spouses who want to find a “smoking gun” for their divorce proceeding may be tempted to do a little research on their own. However, if you’re considering a divorce, it’s best to let the law work on your side. Spying is more than just bad form; it may be against the law. The federal government has wiretapping laws in place that may prohibit certain types of activities. These laws regulate the privacy of stored electronic communications and the interception of emails and other internet communication. Activities that fall under a violation of privacy include:
- Hacking into an account that’s password-protected.
- Snooping on your spouse’s work computer, assuming it’s owned by his or her company.
- Intercepting or recording conversations between your spouse and a third party that don’t include you.
Matters of privacy violation and strangers tend to be clearer than spying on someone as intimate as a spouse. For example, the law outlines gray areas in which snooping may be admissible. For example, in a case in New Jersey, a wife requested that emails between her husband and his girlfriend be admissible in court. The husband’s attorney’s countered, saying that the husband’s emails were in a password-protected account. However, upon further inspection, the emails weren’t actually private because they were configured to copy automatically onto the family’s shared computer. As a result, the wife didn’t need to use a password to view the emails, and the husband did not have an expectation of privacy. As a result, the emails were admissible in court.
What Is Admissible?
Generally, the courts will allow email correspondence and texts between the two of you to be admissible as evidence in a court proceeding. Additionally, publicly accessible information such as Facebook photos and social media updates may also be admissible, as long as they were obtained legally.
Generally, it’s a good idea to let your attorneys do the heavy lifting with regard to collecting evidence in your divorce proceeding. The internet may be full of incriminating evidence that could help you obtain a favorable outcome in your proceeding, but you must obtain it in a fashion that does not violate your spouse’s right to privacy. When speaking to your attorney about your divorce, it’s a good idea to disclose the evidence you amassed on your spouse as well as how you obtained it. Keep in mind that getting information on your spouse through password-protected means, such as an email account, could end up hurting your chances rather than helping your case.
Even though you agreed to share your lives together, spying on your spouse is still illegal. Your partner has a reasonable expectation of privacy in certain areas of his or her life, including his or her password-protected accounts. Public information may be legally admissible in court, but that information stored under private accounts is protected by federal wiretapping and privacy laws in many cases. Rather than trying to collect information for your divorce case yourself, let your attorneys handle it through the appropriate legal channels. They may be able to collect information using processes like a subpoena, even if that information is located in a private location.