Computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices have become so pervasive that it is sometimes difficult to remember how we all got along without them. That reliance on electronic devices has been accelerated by the pandemic and the shift to remote rather than in-person interactions for work, school, social gatherings, and entertainment.
When it comes to family law proceedings the use of technology is both a blessing and a curse. We have discovered unanticipated efficiencies in the ability to conduct some kinds of proceedings virtually rather than in person. Client meetings, mediations and trials have all been conducted using technology instead of in person interactions. On the other hand, that same reliance on technology also creates vulnerabilities to hackers, to misinformation, and to doubts: How does one sort out what is safe, accurate, and reliable from all the quick fixes, instant cures, and identity theft scams? Just as importantly, how does one identify and avoid legal pitfalls?
Sorting the wheat from the chaff and identifying the trouble spots in using technology is exactly the purpose of this issue. People engaged in a family law proceeding may be navigating what feels like uncharted territory. However, there are tested tools available, as well as guideposts to mark potential trouble spots.
Ketan Soni discusses the “Top Apps When Going Through a Divorce” that divorcing couples can use to help them manage the transition, from scheduling and communication apps, to budgeting and child support payment apps, to meditation and wellness apps to ease stress.
From spyware to GPS tracking devices to car or home break-ins, computer forensics expert and former police detective Russell Gilmore has seen it all in family law cases and explains how technology can make an already difficult situation much worse in his article, “Technology in My Divorce.” He cautions parties going through a proceeding to take a thorough inventory of their digital footprint, including text messages, emails, smartphones, and more, and secure it, even if it means hiring an expert to help.
By now we know that anything you post on social media never really goes away, even after you delete it. During a family law matter, anything about you online, whether you posted it or someone else, could be admissible in court, says Justin W. Soulen in his article “Social Media Use During a Divorce or Custody Case.” Soulen sympathizes with divorcing spouses who may be tempted to turn to social media for support during a difficult time but takes the better-safe-than-sorry approach and discourages social media use altogether during divorce proceedings.
The end of a relationship often comes with a lot of suspicion and hard feelings about the actions or suspected actions of the other party. When a party is considering leaving their marriage, it may seem wise to begin gathering information about their spouse, electronic or otherwise, but doing so can have serious legal consequences, including potential civil or criminal penalties. Readers of Meredith Parker’s article “Can I Access My Spouse’s Account?” will learn when and if it is legal to access a spouse’s work or personal email account, financial accounts, online calendar, and cloud storage and the steps to take to protect your own information.
At the same time as you are considering whether or how the collect data about the opposing party, keep in mind that he or she will likely be having similar thoughts about obtaining your data. Because its importance cannot be overstated, we also bring you six more tips for safeguarding your electronic data (and remaining level-headed) during your divorce from Cynthia J. Ponce.
Family sharing plans can save money and make life easier when everyone is on good terms but during a divorce or custody dispute, they are a treasure trove of information for the opposing party. After all, both parties consented to being part of the plan in better times, and one person may have been given blanket permissions to access the other’s accounts and passwords. In “Remember to Check Your Settings: The Perils of Family Sharing Plans,” Bradley C. Jones discusses what to do in this situation, what information is accessible in a family sharing plan and admissible in court, and how to secure your data.
In “Using Technology to Find Answers to Common Child Custody Problems and Keep the Peace While Co-parenting” Shelly M. Ingram shares an array of useful apps and other digital platforms for co-parents. Co-parents need to choose their communication methods wisely in case a situation turns hostile, as certain apps preserve the digital record and don’t allow editing or deletion. Some are even required by courts.
Michaela Cronin brings us an informative article called “The Price You’ll Pay to Press Play: When and Why You Should Think Twice Before Recording Your Spouse.” It is a cautionary tale for those who may be eager to capture their spouse in an unfavorable light. She clarifies often confusing and fine-line topics such as the difference between one- and two-party consent, which varies by state; implied or explicit consent; federal consent laws; the legality and admissibility of audio-only versus audio-video versus video-only recordings; “revenge porn”; recording a spouse’s interactions with their children; and what to do if you think you are being recorded.
While Justin Soulen’s article addresses the pitfalls of social media for divorcing couples from a litigation and custody perspective, Tiffany A. Lesnik discusses “The Mental Health Effects Relative to Social Media” from a wellness perspective. She illustrates how even an otherwise healthy marriage can begin to suffer when one spouse over-uses or misuses social media. She lists the warning signs for when the positive aspects of social media, such as helping us stay connected to loved ones during the pandemic, become eclipsed by the negative aspects, such as escapism, isolation, FOMO (fear of missing out), and even addiction and ways to step back and regain balance.