When we think of family law and divorce, we may think of everything from bitter bickering over who gets the house to battles over child support. However, something we might not consider, but we need to, is the role technology could play in your case.
“That’s the first thing I think of, that rising technology is leading to an increase in divorce,” says Kaine Fisher, director of family law at Rose Law Group. “You get the good with the technology, but then there’s this bad side of it when it comes to families.”
And when it comes to divorce, technology can cripple your case. Do you and your estranged spouse share an Apple ID or iCloud account? That could be major trouble. Sharing an iCloud account with your spouse gives him or her unfettered access to almost everything on your iPhone, including your location, photographs, contacts and incoming and outgoing text messages. So that sexy selfie you sent to your new love interest: chances are your soon-to-be-ex saw it, too.
Not only can technology tear apart a divorce case, it can be a contributing factor as to why they’re filed in the first place. According to Fisher, everything from Cloud software to social media sites can contribute to divorce, leading to spousal infidelity and other sources of conflict.
Attorney Marc Lamber, legal analyst with the Lamber Goodnow legal team at Fennemore Craig, says technology doesn’t only play a preemptive role in divorce, it comes into play most strongly when the litigation starts.
“Our clients not only expect us to use and integrate technology, they demand it,” he says. “Their experience is not complete unless technology plays a vital role — just like it does in their lives.”
While the Lamber Goodnow team focuses on matters of personal injury, technology is something from which all legal practices can benefit.
But Lamber warns: “If you bring ‘toys’ to a trial, be careful. They can also be used against you. All lawyers need to carefully think through how they are going to use any new technology.”
Keeping this in mind, as one enters a family law-related case, it’s important to recognize what technology might be able to do.
“Technology is now the best and easiest way to obtain incriminating information,” Fisher states, adding that anything from a spouse’s spending habits to their parental fitness can become fair game.
“With recording and keystroke logging technology, you can get your spouse’s password and log into their emails to see what’s going on there,” he says. “I have been made aware of situations where, if the spouse leaves the phone on the nightstand while they take a shower, you can download software that enables you to hear their real-time conversations from your phone.”
While this certainly makes it easier for legal teams to obtain discovery, it also leaves the door wide open to a whole host of problems for the investigated spouse.
When Fisher meets with a client, he informs them right away about all of the potential tools that could be used against them.
“I tell my clients, ‘You need to be changing your passwords and to not be using a shared computer anymore. You need to take your phone to Verizon or AT&T to get it checked out and take your car to the bodyshop and have them check underneath for a lo-jack device.’ I know it sounds crazy, but I wouldn’t be giving that advice if it hadn’t happened before.”
Taking these steps, he adds, can save clients a large amount of confusion and frustration down the line.
While there are times when utilizing technology in family law can be a real benefit, it’s worthwhile to consider your options first.
According to Lamber, “Technology can at times create a trap in that people often believe that all technology represents the truth — and its use may give something a credibility that it does not deserve. Certain technologies may cost more than a case is worth, and certain technologies are more valid than others.”
When all is said and done, Lamber says, technology should be used to represent one’s clients in the best possible way, helping to bring about favorable outcomes while not harming the case and still being expedient.
According to Fisher, both clients and lawyers should think twice before using technology in any way possible. He gives the example of a typical parenting-time exchange, without any extenuating circumstances.
In this situation, he concludes, one parent recording the other on their cellphone to look for mistakes might do more harm than good, for both the case and the child’s welfare.
“It’s kind of a cliche, but lawyers get bad people at their best and good people at their worst,” he concludes.
“It’s a very exciting time to be practicing law,” says Lamber. “Ultimately, the consumer market will demand a high level of technology and those practitioners who resist the demand will become obsolete.”
Lamber Goodnow is certainly eager to take advantage of this growing trend. Their recent cases have utilized a variety of technological tools, from Google Glass to 3-D printing, and that’s only the beginning.
In the future, Lamber says, clients can expect everything from virtual reality to AI to be used in the courtroom.
So what does that mean for family law? Fisher, too, is optimistic.
“We as practitioners need to learn and stay up on these new technological advances”, he says. “I need to be available by text and by email and by instant messaging, at any time at night. I need to be versatile because that’s what my clients are doing.”
So as technology marches into the future, family law and other practices will continue to do all they can to stay up-to-date and relevant for the clients they serve.
“I think as technology evolves, the way we present evidence in court evolves, the different types of evidence that we’ll be able to obtain evolves and the way I practice has to evolve,” Fisher concludes.