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Cell phones don’t seem to leave our hands these days. Amazing new technology, devices and apps have made it so much easier to improve efficiency and stay constantly connected. But there is a negative side to technology that’s become unavoidable. We’ve all been guilty at times of being caught up in the online world and ignoring the real world around us. So, we sat down with Christina I. Echeverri in our family law group to find out about how everyone’s favorite devices have had an impact on the world of divorce.
1. What role does technology play in divorce cases?
For better or worse, technology has clearly effected almost every aspect of our lives. In the divorce world, however, I see it playing a role in two different ways. There are situations where my clients have chosen to file for divorce as a result of technology, and then there are clients’ divorce cases that are impaired and intensified because of technology.
2. How is that changing divorce proceedings?
Ironically, I’ve found that technology has led to a lack of communication. People are complaining that their spouse isn’t “present” – spending too much time glued to their phone, iPad, Apple Watch or the like, tablet or computer. It has also become much harder for cheating or deceitful spouses to hide their faults. Social media plays a huge role. Remember, the internet remembers everything and “private” doesn’t always stay private. The biggest problem I’ve come across recently is that spouses are not realizing that when you write something on one device, it can also be seen in other places, and these devices do not always talk to each other. I’ve had two cases recently, where a spouse found incriminating text messages on an Apple Watch that the cheating spouse thought were deleted. Often times we come across one spouse obtaining personal information that spouse did not want the other spouse to have, such as bank or credit card statements, or a list of that spouse’s bank accounts simply because they left the information in plain view on a family computer. In many cases, this information has been instrumental to the spouse who obtained the information and has assisted with the discovery of additional funds or discovery of dissipation of assets during the litigation.
3. What should individuals know about protecting their privacy through technology during a divorce proceeding?
Individuals considering divorce or in the midst of divorce should be overly cautious about keeping private information private. Just as one would avoid case-related discussions within an earshot of the spouse, one should avoid leaving information where a spouse might have access. Otherwise, you are potentially setting yourself up for a legal battle and giving your spouse either ammunition to file divorce proceedings or to rely on the information in divorce proceedings. There are easy ways to safeguard personal technology – passwords on cellphones and smart watches, ensuring a deleted text message is deleted on all devices (don’t trust them to sync), and a heightened level of care when it comes to protecting private information. Above all else, the safest way to avoid trouble with technology is to keep private communications old-fashioned: face to face or on the phone.
4. Have new technologies effected how attorneys handle divorce cases?
Lawyers have adapted their communication methods just as the rest of the world has, which means sometimes we communicate with our clients through text message. This can become troublesome in divorce cases since divorce is such a sensitive matter, with opponents living such intertwined lives. For example, if a client was planning a divorce and still living in the same house as their spouse, seeing a text message from a divorce lawyer on the client’s phone could be problematic. There is the possibility that the spouse may learn tactics or overhear private conversations, which can create another layer of issues during the divorce proceedings. Hence, we counsel our clients to be wary of the access their spouse may have to their electronic devices, especially email access on family computers (sometimes allowing for automatic login), shared ICloud accounts and syncing devices.
5. What advice would you give a client or potential client regarding technology in their marriage or divorce?
Technology has its drawbacks. With regards to technology in marriages, too many times it becomes a substitute for communication and the marriage takes a downward spiral. My recommendation is to put the phone away, don’t wear a Bluetooth watch, and go back to the old way of communicating with your spouse. Be an active participant in the marriage. With regards to technology and privacy during the marriage or divorce proceedings, I hope it goes without saying, my foremost recommendation is not to cheat in the first place. But if you find yourself in that situation, be thoughtful about protecting private information. If you must communicate via an electronic device, whether it be with your counsel or personal conversations, secure your information by familiarizing yourself with the syncing capabilities of all of your devices and remove automatic login options for emails on your family computer or tablet.
Christina Echeverri practices in Kluger Kaplan’s family law group, handling all aspects of divorce, post judgment proceedings, enforcement proceedings, paternity actions and prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.