Divorce and Ownership of Electronic Information

Divorce and Ownership of Electronic Information

By: M. Scott Gordon

When you file for divorce in Chicago and are taking the required steps for marital property to be divided, you might be wondering whether your spouse will have access to the private information you have been keeping on your computer over the course of your marriage, and whether it will change the way in which the court ultimately decides to divide your marital assets. According to a recent article in The New York Times, many married couples have forgotten that they shared passwords with their spouses and that other apps, such as calendars, are shared among the family. Such internet “sharing” can make it easier for the other party to gain sensitive information and to determine how you are spending your time during the period of separation.

What steps can you take to help ensure that you are the only owner of—and the only one with access to—sensitive electronic data?

As Soon As You Decide to File for Divorce, Take Steps to Disentangle Your Digital Life from Your Spouse’s Electronic Life

As the article explains, the first thing you need to do once you have decided to file for divorce is to begin taking steps to disentangle your own electronic life from your soon-to-be-ex spouse’s life. What does this mean? In brief, it will require taking a number of different steps, including but not limited to:

  • Opening a new email account with an entirely new password;
  • Opening a new bank account with new online sign-in information;
  • Turning off shared apps, like calendars or contact lists;
  • Disconnecting links between cell phones and iPads (or other devices that your children may take with them to the other spouse’s home); and
  • Turning for tracking apps that can allow another party to determine your location from your cell phone data.

Avoid Giving Your Spouse Easy Access to Your Electronic Information

You should also be changing your passwords and the security questions that can give another party access to the information contained in your bank accounts, your email, and other online portals. Almost everyone does their banking online and pays bills through Internet sites, and those portals each require a username and password. If you have been married for quite some time, chances are good that your spouse knows the usernames you tend to employ, as well as the passwords.

And even if your spouse cannot guess your new password, it is likely that she or he knows that answers you have provided for “password recovery” systems. For example, what is your mother’s maiden name? Or, for instance, what is the name of the city where you were born? By and large, these kinds of questions are aimed at keeping strangers out of your accounts; they are not designed to keep an ex-spouse (who knows you better than almost anyone, most likely) from gaining access to your information.

While some of these methods of obtaining electronic information are legal—such as in cases where you continue to share a bank account, email account, or calendar app with an ex-spouse—others are not permitted. To be sure, it is unlikely that your spouse would be able to use information in court that he obtained by impermissibly guessing your new password, or resetting your password because he knows the answer to your “password reset” questions. However, this does not mean that information obtained through such methods cannot hurt your case.

Contact a Chicago Divorce Attorney

If you have questions about managing electronic information during your divorce proceedings, a dedicated divorce lawyer in Chicago can help. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC today to learn more.