The Age of Digital Evidence: Protecting Your Family Law Clients

Whether you find the digital evidence age interesting and challenging or consider it a frustration and nuisance, it makes no difference. The evidence is clear.  Among the many fields of law taking a head on plunge into this arena is family law. Lawyers are busy preparing clients for the electronic exposure that is possible in their everyday activities.  Otherwise, these challenges may sneak up on you.

Fortunately, our faculty members are willing to share their expertise in these electronic tracking developments. I appreciate the contributions of  Ryan Cassman, Judge Andrea Trevino, Tim Wilcox, and Bob Zoss. Following is a sample of their training session during ICLEF’s 11th Annual Family Law Institute  entitled “Electronic Spying and Tracking Spouses in Divorce: What’s Available? What’s Appropriate?”

Our panel begins by looking at the trends that are bringing digital evidence into play for many practitioners:

The Trend of Digital Evidence
94 percent of 1,600 lawyers recently surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) claimed that text messages had increasingly become the most damaging evidence in divorce cases. The same survey shows sharp increases in evidence via texting (62 percent), social media (81 percent) and emails (23 percent).  (http://www.aaml.org/about-the-academy/press/press-releases/divorce/lawyers-finding-divorce-app-smart-phones)

The New Addiction?
Facebook currently estimates its monthly active users at 845 million and its daily active users at 483 million. This means that more than half of all active Facebook users access the site daily.  (http://jamesburchill.com/how-many-active-users-does-facebook-really-have)

And in case that doesn’t amaze you, how about these stats:

  • 65% of online adults use social media.
  • 89% of those under 30 use social media.
  • 69% of those under 30 use social media DAILY.

Courts are entering orders impacting social media data
In the Gallion case in Connecticut (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2011/11/07/judge-orders-divorcing-couple-to-swap-facebook-and-dating-site-passwords) the husband saw things on their shared computer that made him suspect incriminating evidence would be found in the wife’s social media accounts.  The Court ordered the divorcing couple to hand over the passwords to their online dating accounts to their opposing counsel.

Truth Trumps Privacy
Divorcing parties may be granted full access to MySpace and Facebook, including private and deleted data. See Romano v. Steelcase, Inc., 907 N.Y.S.2D 650 (Sept. 2010) And another example of divorcing parties being ordered to turn over passwords, usernames and logins for social networking sites is Zimmerman v. Weis Markets, Inc. (May 19, 2011, Pennsylvania).  (http://www.scribd.com/doc/59083827/Zimmerman-v-Weis-Markets-Inc)

Considering the looming reality of these activities, what should be the lawyer’s instructions to his/her clients? Following is succinct advice offered by these experts for preventing problems:

Litigation Checklist for Your Clients

  • Don’t brag.  Think twice about “bragging” to your ex via any social networking post.  Party pics can get you in trouble in more ways than just one.
  • Block your ex.  Block your ex-spouse from all your social media sites and consider blocking or limiting availability to certain family, friends and colleagues who are sympathic to your ex-spouse.
  • Change your passwords and protect your digital equipment. It is possible your ex-spouse has or had access to your laptop or smart phone and can hijack passwords and even install spyware software. Take the time to change all your important passwords. If you suspect spyware or are just curious, you can take your laptop or smart phone to a spyware detection specialist.
  • Stop Checking In and Geotagging. Don’t let everyone know your whereabouts during this sensitive time in your life.  It’s time to chill out on any location services software such as “check ins” on your iPhone or with Instagram’s newfangled “geotagging” capabilities.

Of course, the legalities pertaining to digital evidence is a topic for an in-depth discussion. These faculty members’ presentations extend into such areas as Authentication and Preservation of Social Media Evidence, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and the Indiana Voyeurism Law. For their thorough training session the 11th Annual Family Law Institute is available as an On Demand Seminar and as Video Replay’s by Clicking Here.

One could say that the overall advice from this family law panel is: Be aware of the impact of your digital activity and the possibilities of digital watching!  Fortunately, I’m able to add to the discussion of digital surveillance with further commentary by our security expert, Tim Wilcox, CEO of International Investigators, Inc. Stay tuned for next week’s Law Tips when Tim provides enlightening information about malware and spyware that may be lurking on your clients’ cell phone.

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About our Law Tips faculty participants:
Ryan H. Cassman, Coots, Henke and Wheeler, Carmel, Indiana, focuses his practice on representing individuals in divorce, collaborative divorce, custody, adoption, guardianship and support matters. His practice also includes drafting and negotiating premarital agreements, and with other attorneys at Coots, Henke and Wheeler, assisting clients in preserving their business interests and investments, pre and post-divorce. Ryan is a Certified Domestics Relations Mediator and a Certified Family Law Specialist.

Andrea R. Trevino, Magistrate, Allen Circuit Court, Fort Wayne, Indiana, was appointed to her position in August 2013. She presides primarily over the IV-D Division of the Circuit Court. Ms. Trevino grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana and received her J.D from IU Law School Bloomington in 2003. Prior to her appointment as Magistrate, Andrea practiced law for ten years, concentrating in family law, civil litigation and appellate work.

Tim Wilcox, International Investigators, Inc, CEO, Indianapolis, is a skilled and well-known Indiana investigator. He specializes in security consultation, internal theft investigations, protection of proprietary information and communications, computer and cellular forensics, and litigation support.  He has been instrumental in reducing corporate shrinkage and eliminating vulnerabilities for companies worldwide. Mr. Wilcox is a member of the World Association of Detectives, the National Assn. Of Legal Investgators, the Society for Competitive Intelligence Professionals, the American Society for Industrial Security and the Indiana Association of Professional Investigators.

Robert E. “Bob” Zoss, Sr., Bob Zoss Law Office LLC, Evansville, was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana.  He received his JD from Indiana University Law School Bloomington. He has practiced law in Evansville, Indiana, since 1974, initially working for a local law firm and then as Deputy Prosecutor until his retirement from that office in March, 2012. During his some 35 years as a felony trial deputy, Bob has handled many murders and other high profile cases on behalf of the State of Indiana.

About our Law Tips blogger:
Nancy Hurley has long-standing connections with Indiana lawyers. She was formerly a member of the ISBA and IBF staffs for over 30 years. Nancy’s latest lifestyle venture is with ICLEF. We are utilizing her exceptional writing and interviewing skills while exploring how her Indiana-lawyer background fits with ICLEF’s needs. When she isn’t ferreting out new topics for Law Tips, her work can be found in our Speaker Spotlight blogs, postings on the ICLEF Facebook and Twitter pages, and other places her legal experience lends itself.

Thank you for reading Law Tips. You may subscribe to this weekly blog through the RSS link at the top of this page.  Also, you are encouraged to comment below or email Nancy. She welcomes your input as she continues to sift through the treasure trove of knowledge of our CLE faculty to share with you.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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