One of the practical issues that occurs incident to dissolution is “information leakage”. Information leakage occurs when the other side - either soon to be ex-husband or wife - has texts, e-mails, voicemails, social media posts, or other information that they should not have access to. Generally in such cases, clients want to know how the other party received such information, and are upset that the other side has such information. While it should not be shocking, the source of such information is usually shared passwords.
In a recent Pew study, it was found that sixty-seven percent (67% ) of couples share at least one online account password and twenty-seven percent (27%) have shared their passwords. While password sharing is common, and in theory, a good practice for healthy, happy relationships, given that half of all marriages end in dissolution, there are plenty of examples of how sharing passwords in an unhappy relationship can be a bad idea.
If one is absolutely certain that they are filing for dissolution, or is already in a dissolution or paternity action, it is imperative that one change their voicemail, e-mail, and social media passwords for their own accounts. While this may be somewhat frustrating for the other party based on past conduct, the important thing to remember is that those passwords were shared in the past - and based on present actions of separating, it is no longer practical to share such items. As social media screenshots are frequently featured as evidence in Family Law actions, it makes no sense to volunteer items to the other side. Similarly, if you are the party that pays for streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, it is prudent to change such passwords as well to prevent any type of abuse of the service.
Changing passwords for personal items is important, and likely needed, but is also important to remember that one cannot take further measures that would presumably violate the automatic restraining orders (ATROS) that goes into effect on the filing of a dissolution. It is also important to note that one cannot “freeze out” the opposing side from bank account or credit account information, as each spouse - even in a divorce, owes the other side a fiduciary duty.
Similarly, with respect to passwords, you should secure your own gadgets and ensure your security questions have been updated to questions that another party would not know. Ensure all social media privacy settings are up to date and make sure you do not post anything inflammatory or incriminating. One should also make sure that you are not surreptitiously being tracked by third party applications, such as Apple’s Find My Friends. If you have questions about these pitfalls or other traps, don’t just trust what advice you receive from family and friends, or the internet, but contact an attorney who can guide you between what is real – and what is a dead end, and who will advocate for you to get the protection you need. Contact our office today with any questions you may have to safeguard your reputation in Court.
Christopher Sunnen, Esq. is a San Diego, CA based attorney specializing in family law and bankruptcy law.