Divvying up property is part of pretty much any New Jersey divorce. Increasingly though, couples are caught up in examining who gets the online passwords and access to certain online platforms and services.
Granted, it’s typically not the most pressing issue post-split, but it’s one that often requires more than a passing through. For many spouses, shared logins are simply part of shared lives. Couples communally share everything from Facebook accounts to online banking records. But when the relationship crumbles, uncomfortable conversations regarding who keeps what may be necessary.
It is estimated 80 percent of Americans in a relationship share passwords across every virtual platform - from mobile wallets to cell phones to email - according to top encryption experts. Where services like Netflix are involved, it can be a simple way to get around paying twice for the same service. Shared social media accounts can be a means of establishing openness and trust. But what happens if trust is lost? Or maybe there’s simply a desire to make a clean break.
The Liability of Shared Logins When the Love is Gone
“Shared passwords initially might seem romantic or even just practical,” said Red Bank Divorce Lawyer Elizabeth Rozin-Golinder. “Unfortunately, if you break up, it can pose serious risks to your personal privacy, and may have a detrimental impact on your pending divorce case.”
The most concerning risk that comes to mind is the physical threat that might arise if a soon-to-be-ex-spouse is violent with or stalking the other. The digital world we live in today has the possibility to track you in ways you may not even know about. Something as an Apple ID can reveal one’s exact location at any time, not to mention call history, browsing history, photos, saved documents, mail history, and social media account logins. Shared passwords may also increase the risk of cyberbullying or revenge porn (illegal per N.J.S.A. 2C: 14-9, invasion of privacy laws).
But even if one’s personal safety isn’t at risk, the information contained in some accounts could be used against a person in a divorce proceeding. As noted in a recent analysis by the New Jersey Law Journal, digital evidence is typically admissible in New Jersey Family Court proceedings. If you have a shared family phone plan, Courts may find there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy - and thus no reason not to admit call logs, photos, browsing histories, text exchanges, and more into evidence (assuming it’s relevant to the case).
Spouses increasingly use digital evidence to establish proof of infidelity. Yet, while that can be the catalyst for ending a marriage, it won’t likely play much of a factor for the Courts, absent evidence the cheater used marital funds to facilitate the outside relationship and/or it caused some direct detriment to any children involved.
Plus, having shared passwords on numerous devices in different households could make everyone involved vulnerable to cybercrime.
Although researchers say it can make some economic sense to maintain shared streaming accounts after a split, that depends on who’s the paying party - and whether it’s truly worth the security risk. Some couples may find it easier to just go on sharing their HBO Max logins, but you may want to reach a mutual agreement about how long that’s going to last.
“From a legal standpoint, it’s typically advised to make a clean break and sever all digital ties,” Rozin-Golinder said. “If it’s something you can negotiate with each other on your own or through mediation - without intervention from the Courts - that’s less money you’ll need to spend on legal fees. But certainly, if it’s a matter of personal safety or potentially substantial consequence, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for your divorce lawyer’s insight.”