Technology in Divorce and Custody Cases: Who’s Zoomin’ Who?
By: Lawrence C. Welsh, Esquire
Other than putting you in mind of the fabulous 1985 release from Aretha Franklin, the question is apropos these days in family law matters, referring to who may be using what sorts of intrusive GPS tools, spyware, or other technology to “jump off the hook” as Aretha put it.
With the variety and sophistication of technology now available to those on opposing sides of divorce and custody cases, the courts are finding more and more cases in which both sides have secrets to tell. The legal questions about the admissibility of the evidence (whether the court will listen to those secrets) and about the legality of obtaining it (whether the spy is in trouble for the way s/he learned those secrets) continue to evolve. The familiar starting point is to determine if the one who got “zoomed” had a “reasonable expectation of privacy, and it is becoming increasingly clear that “secrets” left on a shared family computer, accessible to other members of the household, will not be considered private. Alternatively however, secrets kept under password protection or secured on separate parts of a shared computer will likely be protected. There are also cases in which the “Zoomer,” who may have “thought they had it covered,” perhaps by making a secret recording of the other party, becomes the one facing sanctions from the court.
To keep from being “Zoomed,” delete social media accounts, check your computer for spyware devices that may have been installed, have your vehicle checked for a surreptitiously installed GPS unit, and recognize that anything which is available on shared devices or media is probably fair-game. Courts in custody cases will likely be balancing the best interest of the child(ren) with the privacy concerns of the adults, and divorce courts determining financial affairs will do a similar balancing act. In both forums, it is not uncommon to see the scales tip from one side to the other as the Court answers Aretha’s question: “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”
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