Dissolving a marriage in 2018 is more technologically complicated than it was just a few years ago. Twenty years ago, divorcing spouses spent no time thinking about whether a joint social media account had monetary value and who should keep it, or how to fairly divide an iTunes account containing thousands of dollars’ worth of music purchased with marital funds, or how to completely disconnect family devices so that private communications are not unknowingly shared between the devices. The ease with which devices can wirelessly and seamlessly share information can be an Achilles’ heel in a client’s case and a headache for a divorce lawyer.
Take a moment to consider the technological progress we have made in 20 years. Apple launched the first iMac—with a “powerhouse” 4GB hard drive—in 1998. DVD players were brand new. Mark Zuckerberg was 14 years old and Facebook was 6 years from inception. The first cell phone with a keyboard had just been launched. It was hideous. Fast-forward to 2018, and we are on the verge of fully self-driving cars.
Suffice it to say that technology has advanced. With these incredible advances come 21st-century challenges. The process of dissolving a marriage is not immune to these technological challenges. It is important that each spouse carefully consider how best to “unsync” so that information intended to be private remains private. When times are good, emails, text messages, calendars, contacts, pictures, and videos, may seamlessly be shared and transferred between devices within the home. If a spouse’s text message suddenly appears on another spouse’s tablet—or even a child’s—no one would bat an eye. However, if the same happened during a dissolution and the accidental text message contained a conversation between a spouse and his/her attorney, this could lead to a litigation disaster.
There is also the issue of GPS. When devices share information they often share or can access the location of other devices. One spouse can access the location of the other spouse—at least the location of his/her phone—through applications like Find My iPhone or Google’s Find My Device. These GPS based applications are designed to track devices so the technology and accuracy is fairly refined. Further complicating matters are the periodic system updates that reset settings and preferences in an effort to maximize new features.
In order to ensure that your privacy is protected and that information is not accidentally shared it is imperative that you review the connectivity settings of each device that you use even if it is only connected to your child’s device (remember, your child’s device theoretically travels to your former spouse’s home). It is worth the investment of time to speak with tech support, Geek Squad, Apple’s Genius Bar, or anyone else familiar with your specific technology. Finally, speak to your attorney before deleting any files as you should be advised regarding potential “spoliation” of evidence issues should they apply in your situation.
Jonathon D. Brooks is a family law attorney at Mesa-based Udall Shumway PLC who represents clients throughout all stages of the family court process for everything from dissolution, paternity and child support to spousal maintenance, relocation, premarital agreements, and adoption. Selected by Super Lawyers as a Rising Star from 2016 – 2019, a recognition received by no more than 2.5 percent of Arizona lawyers, Brooks also lends his expertise to numerous legal organizations, including the Volunteer Lawyers Program, Wills for Heroes, and the Paiute Center Neighborhood Legal Clinic in Scottsdale.