The right to personal privacy is of high value in any free society. We want to live our lives without intrusion and to make our decisions without interference. Although it is not explicitly expressed in the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court has routinely held that this right is implicit within the Bill of Rights, and later amendments, and has used that understanding in some of its landmark rulings. Free people have the right to be left alone.
Applying that right in our modern world can be pretty tricky, however. Miniature cameras can be hidden in toys; voice recorders smaller than the size of a pen can record conversations; GPS tracking services in common phone applications can pinpoint people’s locations with incredible accuracy. Both federal and state laws affirm that much of this technology should be used only with the consent of those affected by it. But then comes the obvious question: What does it mean to “give consent?”
Married couples often share vehicles, phone service contracts, synchronize their devices, and share usernames and passwords to email and social media accounts. All of these things imply at least a certain level of consent in allowing their spouse access to their private world. Emails and text messages, photos and videos, friend lists and social calendars, and even otherwise confidential financial, legal and medical records usually become mostly or completely available to both partners in many situations.
The problem then comes when the marriage begins to dissolve or trust and good will no longer are present. Privacy barriers that were allowed to be broken down need to be rebuilt. When there might be questions of spousal support or child custody, it is imperative that each party’s private information remain fully under their own control so that it is not potentially twisted and used against them in family court.
Each couple, and thus each divorce, is unique, and competent divorce attorneys should be consulted to help with this separation process. The following, though, will help you get started with the process of re-protecting your privacy:
If you have jointly owned bank accounts or credit cards, you should close them as soon as possible in consultation with the advice of your attorney. Some banks allow for any one person to close a joint account, but ideally, you and your spouse would agree to close them together and split the contents fairly. However, if your account requires both parties to close it and your spouse is non-cooperative, then you should open up a separate, individual account to use it exclusively.
Important documents and mail.
Any documents that contain private information, especially legal documents pertaining to your case, should be kept in a secure spot, preferably with lock protection. You should also have your mail forwarded. If you are still living in the same house as your spouse, consider renting a P.O. box.
Phones, Tablets & Computers.
It would be best if you changed your unlocking PINs or passwords. If your spouse had access to your device through biometrics, you should delete their patterns. Synchronized devices should be unsynced. Check your notification settings to ensure that inbound text messages or email / I.M. threads do not display on your lock screen. Turn off GPS tracking permissions. And, above all, be careful where you leave your device: hacking into a device is illegal, but if your spouse remembers an access point that you may have forgotten about, they may end up with access to everything and could possibly use it against you in your divorce proceeding.
You need to change your passwords for everything…emphasis on everything. Use a unique password for each individual account as well, and try to change them regularly. If an account provides a 2-step verification feature, you should activate it. And be on the lookout for any notifications indicating an unknown source is trying to access your account.
Ideally, you should stop using social media altogether while the divorce is in process. However, if your social life demands your continued online presence, then the safest thing to do is to open a new profile with a new email address, keep your privacy settings high, and accept “friend requests” from only your most trusted family and friends. By all means, do not write anything about your spouse or your case, especially anything disparaging about the judge or attorneys involved.
How can I protect my divorce from the public?
Because court proceedings are considered public records, it is impossible to protect the fact of your divorce from public knowledge. However, there are a couple of things that you can do to protect the contents of the proceeding itself from scrutiny.
The best way to protect your process is to use confidential mediation, or what is called a “Collaborative Divorce.” Mediating a divorce this way avoids the courts completely, except for the final step of filing the settlement agreement and issuing the divorce decree. Everything else is handled in a closed room between yourself, your spouse, your attorneys, and a mutually agreed upon mediator, and those deliberations are kept strictly confidential.
If mediation is not an option for you, but you are concerned about some information becoming publicly available that you believe could endanger yourself or your children in any way, you can have your attorney submit to the judge a motion to strike or seal some or all of the case. Generally, both you and your spouse must agree to this motion and be able to present a compelling reason to do so. If granted, the part that is affected will be either redacted or removed completely from the record and sealed away from the public.
Let us protect you.
In our modern world, there are too many ways that our privacy can be violated. If you are in a divorce or contemplating getting a divorce, you need to be extra cautious to ensure that there is nothing left hanging. At the family law firm of Silva & Associates, we have the experience and know-how to help you identify and close off potential privacy loopholes. Moreover, if you believe your spouse has been using illegal means to surveil you, we know how to stop them and to prevent their findings from being admitted. Reach out to us today, and let us put our experience to work for your protection.