By Abby Gregory
While technology can simplify our lives, it does come with a potential downside, especially during divorce and child custody disputes. Dallas family law attorney Abby Gregory sheds light on common technology-related miscues that can negatively affect divorce, child custody and visitation outcomes.
In today’s high-tech world, married couples often share phone plans, home computers, email accounts, cloud accounts and passwords. This may make sense during marriage, but what if you plan to file for divorce and if the custody of your children is at stake?
Unfortunately, most people don’t realize how deeply their personal devices (phones, tablets, computers) and digital accounts (email, text messaging, cloud, Dropbox, social media, apps, etc.) are intertwined with their future ex-spouse’s.
Abby discusses the misunderstood intricacies of sharing data and why it’s important to know what information can be accessed via the cloud.
A fine balance – preserving evidence AND privacy
Destroying evidence during a divorce is illegal, and this includes any past phone call, text, email, financial and other records you shared with your spouse. However, during a divorce, you do have a right to keep personal communications private on non-shared accounts.
That’s why it’s so important to open a new phone plan in your name only, which is in no way tied to your family’s cloud account. In many cases, I also recommend creating a new email account with unique passwords that only you can access.
You should also take steps to ensure that neither your spouse nor your children have access to any device where your personal email or text messages could be retrieved. This may sound simple, but in our practice we regularly see instances where parties private communications have been intercepted.
Abby explains how incriminating text messages were discovered and used against a parent in a custody case.
7 steps to outsmart technology AND protect confidential information during divorce and child custody disputes
Step 1: Don’t call, text or email any information about your plans to divorce on any devices your family shares. For example, if you have a laptop that you, your spouse and your kids all use, it probably won’t be password protected. This can be problematic, because:
- Any email accounts or social media profiles you regularly access from that device probably open automatically, without logging in, simply by turning on the device.
- Any communications you send and receive on shared devices and within shared accounts (email, text messages, etc.) can be accessed from any device tied to your shared cloud account.
For more insight on technology, check out this past post: Is Technology Secretly Sabotaging Your Divorce?
Step 2: Log out of social profiles and private email accounts on shared devices. You should also change all associated passwords and do so on a device only you have access to. If you don’t want to raise red flags by logging out of your email account, move on to Step 3.
Step 3: Create a new, private email account – with a unique password – on a personal device only you have access to. Use this account to correspond with your divorce attorney and family or friends who know about your situation.
Step 4: Keep a careful eye on your personal devices (phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) and change your device passwords. Many parents share tablets or smartphones with their kids. However, this can be a bad idea if your private digital accounts can be accessed there, especially if your child brings the device to your future ex-husband or ex-wife’s home for the weekend.
Step 5: Turn off location services for apps on devices tied to the cloud. This step is especially critical if your future ex poses a potential danger to you or your children. For example, the Find My iPhone and Find Friends apps are built into Apple products. Other apps allow you to check in at locations or receive information based on your location.
These apps typically come with location services features. Visit your local phone services provider for a tutorial on how to keep your location private. Turn off locations services on your children’s devices if a threat of family violence exists.
Step 6: Get a new phone and separate phone plan. This is important, because if you remain on the shared phone plan, your spouse can find out who you are texting and calling and even how long those conversations last.
Step 7: Take precautions when handing down devices to your kids. While you may want to keep an eye on what your kids are doing, you don’t want them – or your ex – to be able to access your private email account, text messages or social media accounts during a divorce.
For example, the child could inadvertently mention something about your legal strategy to your future ex. He or she may also discover heated text exchanges between you and your spouse, which could be traumatizing.
Ask your phone services provider to restore the phone to factory settings, then set up a separate account in your child’s name, that you – and if appropriate, your spouse – have access to. Set up a unique login and password for the child’s phone.
Contact a reputable family law attorney for advice
While these steps can be a good starting point, an experienced family law attorney is your best resource for advice that pertains to your unique circumstances. Contact a reputable divorce lawyer in your jurisdiction to learn more about your divorce, child custody and visitation options.
Abby Gregory is a compassionate Dallas divorce attorney with a substantial record in litigation, collaboration and Texas family law. A graduate of Fordham University College of Law, Abby committed herself to community service during her tenure at Fordham and received the Archibald R. Murray Public Service Award, summa cum laude, based on her extensive pro bono and community work for Lawyers for Children, the Innocence Project and others.