In today’s issue of USA Today, there is an excellent article that highlights some of the pitfalls that may come when parties to a divorce aren’t careful with what they send and receive via e-mail or text messages:
In a new survey, about 88% of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers say they’ve seen an increase in the number of divorce cases using electronic data as evidence during the past five years. That evidence is being used to catch people doing everything from cheating to keeping secret assets, such as buildings, as courts try to split up property equitably.Not only are lawyers scouring inboxes, they’re also looking at MySpace and Facebook pages as well as documents, electronic calendars and all sorts of computerized data. And several companies market software to spy on spouses’ PC use.
People “will leave things on the computer that you would never leave lying around on the coffee table,” says James Hennenhoefer, a family attorney in Vista, Calif., and president of the academy. “It’s astounding. It’s almost as if they want to get caught.”
As I always advise my clients, don’t send anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t mail out to someone on a postcard.
Also, social networking profiles are becoming a very valuable source of information about a person’s social life. Too often, especially with young people, you’ll find pictures on MySpace, Facebook or Friendster profiles which show people in fairly compromising situations. Such photographs could easily be used in a divorce or child custody proceeding, especially in Texas family courts.
Here are a couple of tips for people who may be seeking a divorce or are concerned about child custody issues:
1. Do what you can to keep anyone you don’t know from seeing your profile on social networking websites. MySpace makes it fairly easy to hide your profile. I believe Facebook may have a similar function available. To be even more cautious, don’t put photos up on your profile that show you consuming alcohol, drugs or participating in any activities of which your parents wouldn’t approve.
2. Ask your friends to not send you anything through e-mail or text messaging that they wouldn’t want your spouse or ex-spouse to see. The simple fact is that e-mails are open to discovery during the divorce process — it’s better to be safe than sorry.
3. Change your password now and then. You would be surprised how often people use the same password for everything and never change that password. If your spouse or ex-spouse know your e-mail password, you can rest assured that the temptation to check your e-mail for any evidence will be too much to resist.
4. Whatever you do, don’t delete e-mails which you know to be harmful to your case! The last thing you need is the judge sanctioning you for destroying evidence. If you know there is an e-mail in your inbox that will hurt you, it is better to let your attorney know it exists and prepare to defend against whatever it contains. Once you know that e-mail may be sought as evidence in a divorce case, it is evidence that must be preserved.