It was just a few years ago that digital meddling in divorce consisted mainly of spouses taking screenshots of questionable texts and tagged photos on Facebook. In our tech-saturated world of 2022, however, cyber snooping and other online misbehaviors in divorce have become much more complex — and prevalent.
As Bari Weinberger explained in her latest article for the New Jersey Law Journal, Social Media & Cyber Warnings in Family Law Cases: Learnings for 2022, “Today’s issues reflect everything from digital privacy breaches to cyber-harassment to hidden cryptocurrency and more.”
Are you at risk for a suspicious or vengeful spouse doing you wrong online? You need to protect yourself. Here are some tips for avoiding this new generation of cyber missteps in divorce.
Digital mistakes lurk in shared data plans
Many couples who decide to divorce don’t realize just how much they remain digitally connected — by means of family data plans, shared streaming services and backup accounts like iCloud. These overlooked accounts could be putting you at risk.
As Bari wrote in NJLJ, “Digital ties present real risk for privacy breaches and cyber-snooping. A shared Apple ID, for example, can reveal everything about a person’s internet presence, from browser and email history to call logs, social media account logins and saved documents and photos. Even a person’s physical location can be trackable through the ‘find my’ app, all without any notifications that someone else is snooping.”
Do you really want to give your snooping ex an open “back door” to gathering whatever personal information on you they can find?
The easiest way to head off this potential divorce blunder is take an inventory of all digital devices and accounts as soon as you can:
- Cancel or disable any shared ID’s, shared email accounts, or shared cloud storage accounts.
- Start over with a new phone and new ID whenever possible. Avoid use of any shared devices.
- On any device, follow good digital hygiene habits: keep cell phones locked; turn off location services; delete unfamiliar apps and software; and change any shared, weak or potentially compromised passwords.
Hacking and harassement
If you have shared accounts as described above, there is generally nothing illegal about your spouse accessing them. This changes, however, when you have a separate password-protected account which your spouse “hacks.” Some spouses take it even further by placing hidden cameras in the home or placing an Apple Airtag in the car to track your movements.
You need to be aware that certain types of cyber-snooping, such as wrongfully accessing computers or data and/or disclosing wrongfully obtained information, can result in criminal charges. Video surveillance, GPS tracking, and even drone-spying can, under certain circumstances, be a privacy violation. Some activities violate federal and state wiretapping laws. In extreme cases, cyber-spying can amount to stalking or cyber-harassment or cyber stalking, especially when it’s shared over social media.
If you suspect or find evidence that your spouse is engaging in these types of behaviors, this is information to immediately share with your attorney or call 911 in an emergency situation. You can then take the immediate protective step of filing for a temporary restraining order (TRO).
Social media rants — and how to block them
Another common digital trap spouses fall into in divorce is ranting and raving and sharing all sorts of marital dirty laundry on Facebook or their preferred social channel of choice. Can you prevent your angry ex from blowing off steam on Facebook? Yes. An incredibly practical legal tool available to spouses is signing a “non-disclosure agreement” (NDA) to blunt harmful or negative online behavior by either spouse.
NDAs in divorce are growing in popularity, especially among parents involved in custody disputes; divorcing spouses with high public profiles; those who have already experienced problems with forums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube; and those who know they have compromising personal information out in the ether.
This is an agreement that spouses work out between themselves, often with the help of their attorneys to ensure the legal soundness of the non-disparagement contract.
Common NDA terms include:
• No negative mentions of each other or tagging each other in negative social media posts.
• No posts that disclose marital financial details or business dealings and finances.
• No public sharing of children’s information or photos without mutual consent.
No posting about legal matters, past or current.
Talk over specific NDA terms with your attorney that will fit your privacy needs.
Creating false evidence through “deep fakes”
Don’t remember leaving the voicemail your spouse just entered into evidence in which you promised they could have all the assets and full custody of the kids? Maybe you didn’t. Creating “deep fakes” through the using artificial intelligence to replicate a person’s likeness or voice is becoming as easy as downloading an app and feeding it photo, video or audio only samples.
This is brave new world stuff, and you need to be on your guard. Study up on how to access the audio/photo/video metadata to verify dates and editing information, as well as how to spot obvious manipulations like choppy video and audio edits, pixilation, and other “artifacts” of Photoshopping. Talk to your attorney. Are they skilled in this area?
If “bombshell” evidence is presented in your case that you know is not real, you can also enlist the help of digital forensic experts who can apply more sophisticated detection techniques to uncover a fake. The courts can apply sanctions for a spouse submitting falsified evidence.
Uncovering Cryptocurrency as a Hidden Asset in Divorce
Even if you have managed to dodge all the cyber pitfalls discussed above, the digital age can still throw you a curveball. What do you do, for example, if you know or suspect that cryptocurrency (crypto) — a digital form of currency — is being hidden from marital asset distribution?
Crypto’s appeal as a hidden asset lies in the absence of bank or credit card company involvement and the inapplicability of many regulations and fees tied to other types of currency. Most crypto transactions are recorded in blocks of encrypted data. Transactions are public, but personal information is not. Crypto owners can hold their “coins” online in a third-party exchange accessible via private key (a shortened version of the public key), or they can move them offline to a hardware wallet. Once assets are offline, ownership becomes far more difficult to track down. Here are some signs your spouse could be hiding cryptocurrency.
Some good news? Crypto is not quite as easy to keep hidden, especially with increasing regulation it is becoming even less so. President Biden’s new infrastructure law includes some major changes to reporting requirements, effective for tax year 2023. Among other things, cryptocurrency exchanges will now be treated as brokers, and digital assets will be reclassified from property to securities. Exchanges will have to report customer’s names, addresses and phone numbers; gross proceeds of all digital asset sales; and short-term and long-term capital gains or losses, to both their customers and the IRS. The legislation also adds tax reporting requirements for businesses accepting payments of $10,000 or more in digital assets.
For now, if you know your spouse is a crypto convert, yet no cryptocurrency shows up in their financial asset disclosures, consider hiring a digital forensic accountant to track down crypto activity.
Don’t let digital mistakes sink your divorce! For a detailed analysis of your situation, and answers to all your questions about divorce, call us today to schedule a consultation with one of our highly skilled family law attorneys. Get a strategic plan with concrete action steps. Call us at 888-888-0919 to schedule, or please click the green button below.