Divorce is hard. There is no sugarcoating that. Even a divorce where you and your spouse both agree on ending your marriage can turn acrimonious.
When there is disagreement on how assets should be divided, who was at fault for the divorce, and who should get custody of any children, both parties often turn to desperate tactics to try to get what they want, including hacking into each other’s emails, text messages, and social media profiles.
While you might find incriminating evidence through this hacking, you can also face legal penalties. Read on to learn more about why hacking during your divorce is a bad idea and what the consequences are.
Hacking During a Divorce May Be a Federal Offense
Imagine this scenario: you and your husband are in the midst of a divorce. Your husband refuses to give you what you think is your fair share of your marital assets and refuses to pay you the alimony you think you deserve. You accuse him of being a serial adulterer and in response, his lawyer asks for proof.
Your proof is emails that your husband exchanged with other women while you were married. You turn these over to your attorney, who turns them over to your husband’s attorney as proof of his infidelity.
Instead of gaining leverage for your divorce, you are slapped with a federal lawsuit, filed by your husband, accusing you of violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986.
If this sounds farfetched, it shouldn’t. The story above describes the interactions between Paula Epstein and her husband Barry Jay Epstein. After being married for 41 years, Paula filed for divorce in 2011 and provided the emails to support her claim of Barry’s constant infidelity during their marriage.
The 7th Circuit upheld the suit against Paula, however, they felt that the intent of the ECPA wasn’t to protect cheating spouses. Rather, it was meant for true privacy violations, not as a way to cover up illegal activity (adultery is illegal in many states, including Illinois, where the Epsteins lived).
It’s also important to note that even if you have your spouse’s password, that does not explicitly give you permission to access their emails, texts, or social media accounts. Simply knowing their password does not constitute permission to access their information; if you want to argue that you do have permission, you should have something in writing to confirm that.
Other Reasons to Resist the Urge to Hack Your Spouse
Not only does the federal government prohibit you from hacking into your spouse’s email during a divorce, but many states also have laws against email hacking. In Florida, for example, hacking into someone’s emails can be considered a cybercrime. Following them could be considered stalking, and recording them without their consent is illegal as well.
Even if you find incriminating evidence through your hacking, it doesn’t mean that this evidence will be used in your divorce proceedings. Not only could you be facing legal penalties, the lawyer overseeing your divorce proceedings could use that information against you.
This might call into question your credibility during the proceedings, putting anything you say under oath into question and giving your spouse information to use against you during the divorce.
Consequences for Email Hacking
The Epstein case ended up settling after two days in front of a jury, so we’ll never know what the potential consequences could have been. However, because the ECPA allows for civil suits, the most likely consequences will be monetary.
Most of the time, hacking is a federal offense, as the internet makes it possible for people all over the country, and the world, to be connected. Emails are routed through servers that may be located across the country.
If you commit hacking or other spying crimes in Florida, you may be facing felony charges, which could result in prison time and hefty fines. The punishment depends on the severity of the crime and your criminal record.
What To Do Instead of Hacking
Resist the urge to hack. Even if you think that your spouse’s email is full of incriminating evidence, don’t do it. Your better option is to share with your lawyer that you believe that there are emails, texts, or other messages (such as messages exchanged over social media platforms, like Facebook or Instagram).
Go about getting the information in a legal way by asking your attorney to seek discovery of this information. Your attorney can also send a letter of spoliation to your spouse’s attorney. This letter demands that the other spouse does not delete or otherwise alter evidence, such as emails, texts, or social media posts or messages.
Talk to your attorney about your best options and don’t do anything without guidance from your divorce lawyer.
Do Things the Legal Way
Hacking during a divorce may seem like a viable option, especially during the stress of a divorce. Tempers may be flaring and logical thinking may be in short supply, but resist the urge.
You hire a family law attorney to represent you, so use their advice to guide your actions during the divorce process. Don’t make their job harder by hacking or doing other things to jeopardize your case. Not only can your divorce process be negatively impacted, but you might also end up paying your attorney more as they have to put in extra hours to clean up any mess that you make by hacking.
If you are in need of a divorce lawyer, contact us at the Boyer Law Firm. Our attorneys specialize in Florida family law and have offices in Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, and New York.