Locking Down Your Online Privacy During a Divorce

It used to be that when you met with a divorce attorney, the first concern was protecting yourself from losing assets or being followed by a private investigator. While those are still very valid concerns when spouses initially separate, in today’s constantly connected world, when the decision to divorce has been made, one of the first things attorneys will tell their clients about is the importance of protecting their online privacy. The turmoil of preparing for or going through a divorce can make even important things take a backseat, but everyone facing this situation should consider the following steps to help protect themselves and their electronic privacy:

1. Change All Passwords

According to experts, the very first tip is to change your passwords – ALL OF THEM. We include this piece of advice in every initial meeting with clients who have hired our firm. Studies have found that 67% of couples have shared at least one account password with their partner, while 27% have shared their email password. Some couples use a shared password manager, like 1Password, to manage their access to online services, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

Though sharing passwords is universally seen as a sign of trust, continuing to allow access to important information to someone you are embroiled with in litigation is asking for trouble. While your spouse might never choose to access your private information, simply changing your password can ensure there is no prospect of having valuable personal information hijacked by an angry estranged spouse.

 Bonus Tip: In many marriages, both spouses have the log-in information and passwords for shared accounts such as utilities and mortgages. Part of your divorce process will entail a thorough financial discovery process in which each party must provide all the information about the household and marital finances. The more access each party has to that information, the easier (and cheaper) it is to get all the information necessary. Ask your attorney before changing passwords to shared financial accounts to make sure you aren’t making your divorce process more difficult in doing so.

2. Lock Down Your Devices

Given the wide use of iPhones, smartphones, and tablet computers, many Americans have vast troves of valuable personal information simply laying around the house for anyone to access. If you and your spouse still reside in the same house, it is incredibly easy for him/her to access not only your text messages, but also your emails, social media profiles, bank accounts, and credit card apps. Securing your personal electronic devices with a PIN, a fingerprint, or facial recognition can help prevent this kind of snooping.

 Bonus Tip: Many parents have linked apps on their teenagers’ phones, such as Find My Friends for iPhone users. Review all your apps when preparing for a divorce to make sure that if your spouse is checking your teenager’s phone, they can’t inadvertently find out information about you or your comings and goings that you may not want to be shared with him or her.  For example, you may not want your spouse to find out when you’re visiting with your attorney.

3. Turn Off Shared Services

Though court orders requiring couples to maintain the status quo may prevent spouses from taking money from shared bank accounts, there is rarely any reason that one party cannot cut off some shared services.

Important note: You cannot delete accounts once litigation is anticipated since they will likely be considered electronic evidence, but you can turn off the sharing if you own the account (i.e., you registered the account in your name and with your email address). Many married couples share access to services like Netflix, Amazon, eBay, Dropbox, Google Drive, or Apple – which may appear to be simple entertainment and shopping services, but they are ones that can also contain valuable data about you and your habits. That data can quickly be turned into evidence that may used against you in a divorce or child custody action. The data is still “discoverable” (the other side can ask for it during the discovery process of the divorce action), but there is no reason to leave free access readily available.

Some examples of how this information could expose you to further litigation headaches? A shared Apple ID gives your spouse access to your iCloud account, which can allow them to see your photos, contacts, emails, and even your physical location. Entertainment services like Netflix and Amazon allow for monitoring of purchases and contain bank account information that you should protect. If you are facing or considering a divorce, conduct an inventory of the shared services your family uses so that you know which ones you will need to stop using and reestablish in your own name.