Category: social media

Pre-Divorce Planning – Part II

Pre-Divorce Planning – Part II

I was told by an older attorney years ago that “failing to plan, is planning to fail.”  As trite as that sentiment may be, it is also very accurate.  I am certain that over the years, I have won cases I probably should have lost simply because the other side did not properly plan and prepare their case.  Previously we began our discussion of pre-divorce planning.  Let’s continue with more tips on how you can plan to protect you, your family and your resources before a divorce case gets started.

  • Take down all social networking sites, websites, etc.: First, let me be clear.  The deletion of pictures, posts, etc. from a social media account, especially during litigation, could be deemed to be destruction of evidence for which you could be sanctioned by the court.  However, there is nothing improper or illegal about deactivating your account.  Be aware that the account will still remain on the social media site’s server and could possibly still be accessed.  The interconnected world we live in makes it very easy to learn all sorts of information about a person. One of the first things I do whenever I get a new divorce case is immediately run Google search of the opposing party. You would be amazed what I have found. There is no reason to make it easy for your spouse’s attorney to mine such data about you. If you have a blog, Facebook, Twitter or any other such web page, deactivate it immediately. Even if there is nothing particularly damning on it, your spouse may have your password and be able to log into the page and make changes to besmirch your reputation.
  • Open a separate checking account: Most married couples have joint bank accounts, which means that both parties have equal access to the accounts. Nevertheless, people regularly come into my office and are surprised to find that their spouse has raided the account and absconded with all of the contents. Protect yourself by opening a separate account and withdrawing one-half of the proceeds of the joint accounts to give you something to live on for a while. Keep in mind that if you withdraw the entire account, you will most likely have to repay your spouse for his/her share. Additionally, it is usually a good idea to open the account at a different bank than the one at which you and your spouse have historically done business. Smalltown banks have a tendency to get to know the parties as a couple and, in spite of laws to the contrary, routinely give out information to opposing parties because they are not aware of the pending divorce.
  • Get a complete physical: There are several reasons to do this. One, divorce is one of the top five stressors you will ever go through and it is more important than ever to make sure you stay healthy. Two, a person’s physical health is an element considered by the court for numerous issues such as child custody and maintenance. Three, it is vital that you get yourself checked if you have any reason to suspect that your spouse has been unfaithful. If he/she has infected you with a sexually transmitted disease, you need to find out before the divorce is over so your lawyer can ensure that the philanderer pays the expenses of treatment.
  • Immediately start gathering information: The unfortunate truth is that the only truth in the courtroom is what you can prove. As soon as your spouse finds out you are planning to divorce him/her, you may find that various documents and files start disappearing. As a general rule, if a document has a dollar sign on it anywhere, your lawyer needs a copy of it. This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Real estate closing documents – deeds, mortgages, notes, tax records, etc
  • Credit card statements
  • Bank statements
  • Loan documents
  • Income tax returns (last 3-4 years)
  • Paycheck stubs for both parties
  • Title statements
  • Investment account statements (Mutual funds, IRAs, stock certificates, etc)
  • Retirement & pension account statements
  • Statements of insurance benefits (health, life, and disability)
  • Keep in mind that if there is a particular asset you believe to be a non-marital asset, the burden is on you to prove that it is non-marital.
  • If there is a certain document you cannot locate and you believe your spouse has in his/her possession, tell your lawyer about it and he may be able to get it through the discovery process.
  • Plan your custody case: If you have determined that you will seek primary custody of your child(ren), you need to start planning your custody case immediately. One useful exercise is to pretend you are sitting down with the judge and you have an opportunity to explain to the judge why you should have custody of your child. Ignoring all of the rules of evidence or what is proper in court, just write down everything you would say; get it all down on paper. After you have brainstormed your argument, read back through and think about how you and your lawyer can prove each point, remember truth is not important in the courtroom if it cannot be proven. What facts will need to be established with eyewitness testimony? Are there any facts that need documentary proof? Where can you find those documents? Plan ahead or plan to fail.
  • Complete a financial disclosure/data packet: This will assist your attorney and is a required pleading in several jurisdictions. It helps act as a quick reference for you, your attorney, and, most importantly, the judge. You can download one here.

These are just some of the steps you can take to improve the chances of success of your divorce case. As always it is vital that you talk with a skilled family law attorney to formulate a plan specific to your circumstances.

Photo courtesy of Andy Rogers
Is My Spouse Spying On Me?

Is My Spouse Spying On Me?

Probably.  If you are in the middle of a divorce or custody case, you should at least assume you are being watched to prevent you from doing anything you would not later want used against you in court.  What about actual spying?  The fact is, it happens all the time in these cases.  You may feel like it is tinfoil hat type stuff reserved for people with paranoia, but over the years I have seen this happen over and over again.

In one particularly hostile case, we hired a private investigator to inspect a client’s house.  He found enough stuff to equip James Bond.  There were cameras hidden in the house, taps on the phone lines and even a recorder hidden underneath her house.  The husband, who was living a few miles away at his mothers, would go over to the house when he knew she was gone and retrieve the tapes from under the house.  It was crazy.

In another case the husband “just happened” to show up at the same place as his wife.  He would even sometimes send her text messages that obviously showed he knew where she was.  This was unnerving to say the least.  It turns out he had a tracker on her car as well as tracking software on her phone.

So how do you know if your spouse is spying on you?

  • The first thing is assume that your spouse is spying and behave accordingly.
  • Watch out for strange changes in behavior like “coincidentally” being at the same place you are.
  • Listen for clues in texts and conversations that your spouse has been watching you.  People often are not that smart and many times tell on themselves.
  • Does your phone or computer start acting strange?  Is it suddenly running slower or do there appear to be new programs that you do not recognize?
  • Does the home phone make an odd buzzing or clicking noise?
  • Has your spouse suddenly started buying things for the house?  Cameras and microphones can be hid in numerous places, e.g. new furniture, knick-knacks, picture frames, etc.  I knew a private investigator who carried a recorder that was built into a pen to record conversations.
  • Do you share an iTunes account?  If so, you can track anyone else who shares that account with the Find My iPhone App.  There are similar methods with Android phones and there are other apps specifically designed to track people that can be surreptitiously installed on someone’s phone.

So what do you do if you think your spouse is spying on you?  It usually involves hiring someone to check things out.  Often a private investigator or other security consultant can inspect a home or car for bugs or other electronic devices.  A computer expert can scan your computer and hand-held devices for malicious software.  Also check the credit card bills and bank statements for unusual purchases.  Most of these types of devices are bought off of various websites or even Amazon.com.  The important thing is that if you suspect it is happening, do not ignore it.  Talk with your attorney and make a plan for it.  Remember, just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not following you.

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart

Can Facebook and Other Social Media Be Used Against Me in My Divorce/Custody Case?

Can Facebook and Other Social Media Be Used Against Me in My Divorce/Custody Case?

The short answer is YES!  I love using social media.  I have links to all of my profiles listed on my business cards and I often check Facebook or Twitter before I even roll out of bed.  I enjoy posting snarky and smart alec comments or jokes and embarrassing pictures of me and my family.  It’s fun.  However, during a divorce or child custody case, it is probably a good idea for you to back off of social media for a number of reasons.

The first is that it is probably not going to do anything to encourage settlement of your case.  In fact, it will probably just add fuel to your ex’s anger.  Whether it is veiled statements you are making about him/her, bragging about how much better your life is without the ex, or even posts that you feel may otherwise be harmless; you never know how someone else is going to take something you have posted.

The judge will see your posts.  I do not care what kind of Fort Knox level privacy settings you engaged on your favorite social media site.  It will be seen by your ex or a friend of a friend of the ex and it will get out.  It will then be seen by the judge and it will be considered as part of your case.  I once had a case where I represented a mom and I advised her to back off of her Facebook usage for the duration of the case.  She was resistant because she had all of the privacy settings engaged and besides she “only uses it to share pictures of her kids with her sister in California.”  We get to court and apparently one of those pictures she liked to share with her sister was of her dancing on a pool table while holding a fifth of vodka in her hand while dancing with another woman who appeared to be slapping her on the rear.  At least, that was the picture that was presented by her ex in court.

Do not delete your posts if you already have an account.  If you do, you could be accused of destruction of evidence.  This can have a number of ramifications including that the court will assume there is something in the files you deleted that was detrimental to your case and will, therefore, make a negative inference that you are hiding something.  This is totally legal under the rules of evidence and very bad for your case.  If your attorney ever advises you to delete your posts, that attorney is violating state ethics rules and probably the law as well.  In recent years, I have heard horror stories of attorneys being sanctioned thousands of dollars and even being suspended from practice for advising clients to delete posts from social media.  Do not do it.

Social media is a lot of fun and a great way to share information with your friends and family.  Unfortunately, during litigation it becomes a gold mine of information and evidence for family law attorneys.  While your case is pending, just back away from it and stay offline for a while.  No one is that interested in what you had for lunch anyway.

Photo courtesy of Jason Howie