Electronic Devices and Divorce

August 24, 2018
Lindsay M. Schoeneberger

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.  That would be the sound of a text message showing up on my phone, watch, iPad, and computer all at the same time.  Don’t worry, I actually have the sound turned off on all but one of those devices, so I don’t drive myself and everyone around me insane.  I love the convenience of it.  No matter which device I am using, I can easily respond to a text or call without having to figure out where the heck I left my phone. And because my fiancé has sworn off all things Apple, I never have to worry about him seeing any surprises I’m planning.

But we’re not like most couples.  Most couples I know have the same type of phone and if it is an iPhone, they often share the same Apple ID.  Sure, this is convenient for a number of reasons.  But what happens when a couple decides to separate and forgets that their ex has access to all of their text messages?  Or can see their emails?  Sadly, I’ve had more than one client who discovered their spouse was unfaithful because the spouse forgot their devices were linked.  I’ve had clients who can’t figure out how their ex found out about someone they were talking to months after separating even though they were never seen together publicly and most communication was limited to texting.  If you shared an account or had your texts or calls going to another device that you do not have exclusive control over, you need to be mindful that your ex may still have access to what you assume are private calls or text messages.

When separating, in addition to setting up your own bank account and switching utilities over, you should also be setting up your own accounts for your electronic devices as well as for any social media accounts you might have shared.  You should also consider changing all passwords for existing individual accounts.  If you have a particularly devious spouse, consider the slash and burn approach.  This approach entails deleting all current accounts and starting new, using user names and passwords that are completely random and not linked to you in any way.  When you use a password that might be meaningful to you, it is much easier for someone who knows you to guess it. They may even be able to guess your security questions to access your account using the “Forgot My Password” feature that many accounts utilize.  While this all sounds like an arduous nightmare, it might be better than having your every electronic move monitored by someone you no longer wish to be in your life.

And as an important side note:

Sharing an Apple ID is also contrary to Apple’s recommendations for how to use an Apple ID. Apple’s guidance states that Apple IDs should not be shared, that each individual person should use their own Apple ID and if you’d like to share content like iTunes purchases, to utilize the Family Sharing feature.  Aside from the potential legal issues outlined above, sharing an Apple ID can create additional unexpected technology problems associated with notes, calendar appointments, reminders, and contacts. As more and more data is associated with an Apple ID, these issues will likely only increase in the future, so our advice is to “rip off the band-aid” and create separate Apple IDs sooner rather than later.

Our reliance on technology in every aspect of our lives has become so commonplace that we rarely consider all of the ways in which we inadvertently give up our privacy.  As attorneys who deal too frequently with the issues that can arise when things do not always go as planned,  we urge all of our clients to reconsider the importance of paying close attention to the choices you make when setting up electronic devices and online accounts.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Family Law.