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Today’s Divorce Climate: The Ex-Spouse is a Spy

1.     Change your email address and password when you begin your family law case. Change your computer and cell phone, if possible. Electronic devices, computers, and cell phones can be serious “leaks” of information and strategy in your case.

Email trespass is probably the leading “technology” problem in family law cases. You will probably exchange many strategic emails with your family law attorney, and what a shame if all of your strategy is uncovered by your ex-spouse from accessing your email.

Your now ex-spouse knows you, and your preferences for passwords, and what email account(s) you use. You ex-spouse may even be the administrator of your or other cell service account. Hardly a day passes in my family law practice that an email trespass is not uncovered. The only safe situation is to change all passwords to something very different than you have used in the past. This may not solve the problem if there is a key logger or e-blaster program on your electronic devices, computers, and cell phones.

A key logger program and an eblaster program loaded secretly on your computer may be recording and transmitting your keystrokes to your ex-spouse or his agent. You don’t know this is happening as the programs run in the background of your device/computer.   While it is probably best to obtain a new device for attorney-client communication, in the very least you MUST check your devices for spyware. There are programs available online for this, or you may want to hire a digital forensics specialist to check this for you.

While it is probably a crime to use passwords belonging to another or the use the key logging and eblasting programs, it is often difficult to get law enforcement interested in prosecuting domestic transgressions.

NCGS Section 14-458 defines the crime of computer trespass as access when one has: “no right of permission of the owner to use a computer” or “exceeding the right or permission”.

Computer trespass is a misdemeanor.

2.     Make an investigation into whether your ex-spouse has swiped your identity. Consider reporting any identity theft. Spouses often steal the identity of the other spouse, and frequently the identity theft is uncovered as a source of the breakup or discovered after the break up as part of the investigation of a family law case.

Probably the most common complaint I hear is that “I didn’t sign the tax return or even see it.” Note you may be consenting to the joint return if you don’t investigate this annually and file your own return. Get a copy of the transcripts of your filed returns directly from the IRS using Form 4506-T, which costs nothing.

An ex-spouse rather frequently finds out that the other spouse has used his/her social security number to obtain credit, such as a credit card. Often you find forgery of the signature also. It is wise to get a copy of your credit report at the beginning of the divorce process from all three credit reporting agencies, which are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

You can report the identity theft with IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. There are two boxes to choose from:

Box one: “I am a victim of identity theft AND it is affecting my federal tax records.”

Box two: “I have experienced an event involving my personal information that may at some future time affect my federal tax records.”

Along with making a police report, you can also report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission using one of several methods:

One:   online complaint

Two: Call 1-877-438-4338

Three: Write

Identity Theft Clearinghouse

Federal Trade Commission

600 Pennsylvania Avenue Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20580