Privacy has new meaning today than it did two decades ago, at the early dawn of social media. Increasingly, our personal lives have become something of an open book. Influencers even profit from sharing these insights (though those are often more carefully crafted than off-the-cuff). In any case, there are ways to protect your privacy even in this digital age during a New Jersey divorce.
Divorce lawyers will often advise clients to keep internet posts, videos, or even messages about the divorce to an absolute minimum. Beyond that, you’ll want to ensure that your ex doesn’t have open access to your personal accounts, devices and exchanges. Finally, consider mediation over litigation, as those proceedings do not become public record.
Restrict What You Share - and To Whom
This may seem like obvious advice, but the more you share about what’s happening about the breakdown of your relationship and pending legal proceedings, the less privacy you’ll have a right to expect. Plus, you might inadvertently hurt your case.
As noted by the National Law Review, more than 80 percent of divorce lawyers glean evidence directly from social media to use in Court. These can include character attributes relevant to custody arrangements, hidden assets relevant to equitable distribution and alimony matters, and just general contradiction of oral testimonies. Even if you don’t have anything to hide, bad-mouthing your ex can come back to bite you - particularly in child custody disputes.
If your ex is using social media or other online platforms to denigrate or disparage you, don’t engage. Bring it to your lawyer, who may be able to address it with a cease and desist letter. Alternatively, your attorney may bring this evidence to the Court, which may have significant implications for your ex beyond a few likes and emojis.
Some general guidelines for social media:
- Do not defame or speak poorly about your ex online. New Jersey custody and parenting time decisions factor both parties’ willingness to cooperate with each other and show you have your child’s best interests at heart by (where possible) promoting positive relationships with both parents.
- Update your passwords, your friend list, and privacy settings. Don’t presume that simply because you set your account to private that the information you post won’t wind up in Court.
- Don’t advertise the split before you’ve had a chance to tell family members (including your kids), close friends, etc.
- Never install spyware on your ex’s devices or log into their private accounts without permission.
- Avoid boasting about how well you’re doing. This can be tempting, and lots of people consider this standard modus operandi on social media. But when you craft a version of your life that is deceivingly better than reality, you may provide evidence to the Court that you’re financially better off than you really are. That can impact division of property, alimony, child support, etc.
- Don’t post pictures or videos of your new love interest, especially with your kids.
- Avoid posting anything your ex could use to paint you as an unfit parent (images, videos or discussion of your drinking, consuming illegal drugs, driving intoxicated, engaged in criminal activity, etc.)
Protect Your Information From Your Ex
You may not be especially concerned about your ex “spying” on you, but it’s nonetheless a good idea to take some basic steps to protect your privacy during the divorce process. These include:
- Changing your passwords. This goes for all personal and unshared financial accounts. If you have the slightest inkling that there may be spyware on your own device, consider doing this from a safe computer.
- Logging into secure Wi-Fi. If you’re still living with your spouse while you’re preparing for a divorce, invest in your own secure Wi-Fi. Keep the password secret, and deselect the “remember me” box on devices from which you’re logging on.
- Turning off shared devices and “Cloud” services. So many programs allow information sharing that can be very convenient in a shared household - Amazon, Google, iCloud, calendars and more. If you aren’t sure how to do all this, consult with a tech expert.
- Investing in a new phone and/or tablet and data plan. Yes, you can change passwords and shut off shared services, but it may be easier to start fresh with a completely new device and data plan solely in your own name. And be sure to enable additional authentication protections like fingerprint or pin requirements.
- Checking for spyware. It’s generally unlawful to install spyware on another person’s phone or computer without getting permission. However, it can be tricky when the devices may be considered marital property. If you think it’s possible your computer has spyware installed, there are ways to verify. This report from Wired.com offers some good insight on how to do that. Remember to keep detailed records if you discover any such thing, as it could be relevant to your divorce proceedings.
Minimizing Public Records of the Proceedings
Divorce is a legal proceeding that is formalized in the public record. But that doesn’t mean you can’t minimize some of those details being public - if you’re careful about how you proceed.
We often advise consideration of mediation. This process allows you to resolve these deeply personal matters in a private proceeding with the help of only your attorney(s) and mediator. You retain more control of the process, and you ensure sensitive details of your marriage and split stay off the official Court record.
Alternatively, you can ask your attorney whether sealing your case file - fully or partially - is an option. Judges are not keen to seal public records without just cause. However, if you can establish that revealing certain private details may hurt your career or be counter to the best interests of your children, it’s possible the request will be granted.
Update Your Permission Forms
It’s common for spouses to be listed as one another’s emergency contact or authorized personnel on everything from school forms to workplace records to medical releases to bank records. You will need to take special steps to remove your spouse from these permissions. Check with your attorney if you are unsure which of these may be considered joint accounts.
By working with an experienced East Brunswick divorce lawyer, you can ultimately maintain your privacy while regaining your independence.
Contact our East Brunswick New Jersey Divorce Attorneys today at (732) 810-0034 to schedule an appointment.