Legal: Five Uses and Abuses of the Internet in Divorce Cases

Given the number of people who use the World Wide Web, here are five uses and abuses of the Internet in divorce cases.

1. Long-Distance Web Cam Parenting.

Webcam technology over the Internet using software such as Skype or IChat allows parents who relocate or relatives such as grandparents who live far away from their grandchildren to communicate on a more immediate and personal level. Some courts are even mandating webcam visitation in their orders. States such as Utah, Wisconsin, and Missouri have made virtual visitation part of state law. Other states such as California and Ohio are considering the option. There is a potential downside. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, conducted interviews with older grandchildren who video chat with grandparents who said that they visit them less because they have already seen them.

2. Finding Evidence.

Searching public social networking sites such as Facebook or Myspace or dating sites are a free and legal way of finding evidence. How do you tell the judge that your income is $30,000 when you claim on your dating profile that you make $200,000 per year. How do you explain to the Judge the picture of you posted by someone on Facebook of you at a party in a drunken stupor when you were said you were at home doing homework with the kids? An extreme example would be the case of Joshua Lipton who according to published reports was sentenced to two years in prison when the Judge in his drunk driving case saw a picture of him posted on Facebook at a Halloween party wearing a “prisoner” costume with “jailbird” written on his orange jumpsuit.

3. Wiretapping.

There is a clear distinction between legally obtaining evidence from public posts on social networking sites and illegally wiretapping your spouse by recording private telephone conversations or by installing spyware on your spouse’s computer. The latter is illegal. Most likely the evidence will not be admissible in court and may result in civil and criminal sanctions. In one reported divorce case in New Jersey, a wife was granted $7,500 when her husband installed spyware on her computer to track her e-mails. Such wiretapping may be subject to state and federal criminal sanctions. For example, in California, the Family Code provides that interspousal wiretapping via the use of electronic devices such as tape recorders is illegal and its fruits inadmissible by statute. If you want to secretly record a telephone conversation you must first obtain a court order.

4. Communicating.

In high conflict cases, the court may order the parties to communicate by email as a way of lowering tension and documenting communications. Some companies such as OurFamilyWizard have developed software specifically designed for divorcing families so they can keep track of their communications, share journals and calendars and post the times and dates of events such as teacher-parent conferences and school plays. However, the Internet is not the place to vent your anger and frustration at your ex. If you make threats or use obscene or derogatory language in an e-mail or posting, you will probably find that the other side will use it as evidence against you. If you post something that is open to the public the consequences can be even more serious. In Colorado, the press reports that a man was charged with criminal libel for allegedly posting on craigslist accusations that his former lover traded sex for legal services from her attorney.

5. The Cause of Divorce.

By now everyone is aware that cyberspace relationships often lead to marital strife and divorce especially when they result in real life affairs. One of the most bizarre stories of cyberspace romance comes from the United Kingdom where a woman filed for divorce when she found out that her husband’s alter ego, “Dave Barmy,” was having sex with a call girl in the game Second Life. In real life in his defense, the husband claimed that he was forced to look for affection elsewhere due to his real wife’s addiction to the game World of Warcraft.