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Technology increases spying in divorce

Until recently, a bitter divorce involved heated custody battles, lurid accusations (proven or unproven) and vicious fights over how to divide marital property – or even whether an asset qualified as marital property.

Those things still exist, but there is a new wrinkle to divorces between two spouses who don’t like each other much: technology. According to a recent report on National Public Radio, digital spying is increasingly being used by one spouse to get the goods on another.

The Rise of GPS Trackers

In one case, a woman who had completed a divorce was convinced her ex-husband was stalking her. Even when she left town to stay with friends because she feared for her safety, he knew exactly where she was – down to the time of day and the street she on which she was parked.

Turns out the ex-husband placed a GPS tracker near the front wheel of her car. She only became aware of this when an auto mechanic found it while completing other maintenance.

Attorneys and law enforcement officials NPR spoke with say individuals in divorce are increasingly employing digital tools to track their spouses or ex-spouses in attempt to gather information that will provide an advantage in custody disputes, property division or other aspects of the divorce. In addition to GPS trackers, individuals are installing spyware on their former partner’s computer or smart phone in order to monitor incoming and outgoing messages. The technology is sophisticated and affordable.

A Question of Legality

Perhaps the most unnerving aspect of this trend is that these actions are not always illegal. In the case of the woman whose car was tracked, prosecutors decided not to charge the ex-husband with a crime because the vehicle was still jointly owned and it wasn’t clear if what he did was illegal.

Authorities agree that installing spyware on a partner’s phone most likely does cross the line and could result in charges if it is proven. That can prove to be challenging, however. When the woman whose car was monitored took her iPhone in to be checked for spyware, the Apple employees simply provided her with a new phone. Problem solved, but it removed any possibility that evidence could be recovered.

Some of those who have used spying as a tactic to gain advantage in divorce have been prosecuted, but so far, that is the exception and not the norm. For now, the best advice appears to be even if your estranged or ex-spouse doesn’t seem like someone who would spy on you to gain an advantage, be cautious and aware.

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