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Several years ago I had a client who was normally very careful about such things. Her phone was password protected, as was her tablet. Ditto her laptop. She had changed her passwords after starting her divorce. Then one day while her ex was picking up the kids she set her phone down on the kitchen counter after using it and, before it shut off, turned away for a few moments. Her ex grabbed it and bolted away. He forwarded email to his email, including some pictures that were… incriminating… as well as email he shouldn’t have seen.
It created real problems in a nasty custody battle that took months to undo. All because of a moment of what really cannot be called carelessness. Who would have thought he would grab her phone in the few seconds before it shut off? It created a great deal of heartache and embarrassment as well as legal trouble. He was a supreme jerk, but I’ve added this to my list of warnings I give to new clients.
Spouses often do not realize how much their partners know about their online accounts. Your ex may well know your regular passwords, and even if you open up a new bank account, if you’ve used the same password and login (“SuZZYQ1234%”, “Yosemite!1993”) for everything since 2003 they may be able to access every new account you open. Sometimes if they inherited the computer it will have conveniently stored your passwords and will fill them in for them, allowing them access after you leave to bank accounts, email, social sites, even Netflix. Creepy AND potentially disastrous.
When you separate from a partner, you need to make a serious break with the old. Get a new email account (there are plenty of free ones available, from Gmail to Yahoo to your internet provider). Choose login information that you’ve never used before. Use the lock codes for all of your electronic devices, and keep an eye on them; get in the habit of shutting them off when you use them rather than setting them down and letting them shut off on their own.
Be cautious about tweets, emails and social site postings. Divorce lawyers view these as gold mines. That funny picture of Dad passed out at a party with a bottle in his arms his buddies took is great for laughs but the judge may not find it so funny in a custody case. The picture of you cavorting with two brawny young half-naked youths half your age may not be probative but may be prejudicial and you can’t make the judge’s mind forget what her eyes saw.
I have had clients defend their incriminating Facebook pictures by saying “I unfriended my ex and all her friends. No way she will see these pictures” That doesn’t mean some well-intentioned friend won’t pull a picture and send it to the ex in an effort to gain revenge for you and say, “See how much fun my buddy is having now that he is free from you?”
The rule of thumb in any family law proceeding is that you must be prepared for the judge to see anything that you post online, tweet, email, Snapchat, etc. These digital communications give us the dubious option of immediate communications and sharing universally that which previously would never have happened, as the time it would have taken to put us in the position to share (and the limited circle of friends we could share it with) would have either given us the wisdom not to share it or would have limited the damage. Showing a picture to some friends to laugh about at work is not the same as posting it online where millions can copy and preserve it forever (and show a judge…).
By the way – the picture of the guy passed out drunk posed with the bottle by friends on his Facebook page? I used that in a child custody case quite effectively.