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In divorce, knowledge is power - unless it's illegal

What lengths would you go to in order to strengthen your divorce case? Would you try to access personal files on her computer? Troll his Facebook and Twitter accounts or intercept email messages? Perhaps a better question is whether your spouse would do any of these things to you.

As sinister as these actions sound, cyber snooping among divorcing couples is increasing. With so much information being transmitted through email, social media and smartphones, couples can more easily spy on each other. The information they cull is then used as evidence against each other. Pictures of a spouse with another romantic partner, expensive purchases that uncover hidden income that could be put toward child support or alimony -- such information could be used to get a better settlement or point out financial misconduct.

The problem is that the means of gathering of this info may not be legal, and judges are often the ones who have to make that determination, which must be done on a case-by-case basis. Did you and your spouse have a shared computer? How much of your information can the other person access? Did she know your password before your divorce proceedings began? What are the exact rules when it comes to cyber privacy, and what are the penalties for breaking them?

The biggest risks of your privacy involve social media sites such as Facebook. Many divorce lawyers now advise all their clients to double-check their privacy settings and access. "If you don't change your passwords," says one divorce lawyer, "you left them the key to the house."

If your spouse knows your password before the divorce gets started, he or she may be legally able to read and save your emails during the proceedings. Then there are thornier issues, like spyware that's secretly installed on a spouse's computer. Reading someone else's emails, including any that might go on between your spouse and his lawyer, is a criminal offense and could subject you to civil liability. And information that's obtained illegally usually can't be used in court anyway.

The bottom line if you're going through a divorce: Change your passwords, and don't say anything on Facebook or Twitter about your divorce. Finally, resist your own temptation to snoop. Instead, ask your attorney if she can file a motion for the same information through the court.

Source: WLTX.com, "In Divorce Wars Cyber-Snoops Often Cross Legal Lines," Derry London, Feb. 23, 2012

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