Divorce in the Digital Age

baby with laptop

As we enter further into the 21st century, it is important to look at how technology has impacted family life and matrimonial law. In my Divorce In The Digital Age blogs in this newsletter and the next one, the following topics will be covered:
How social media can be harmful in custody and parenting disputes; cyber abuse as a form of domestic violence; the child’s voice, technically speaking; the attorney-client digital relationship; use of a forensic computer expert and the futuristic divorce.

Divorce In The Digital Age Part I
Social Media Can Be Harmful In Custody And Parenting Disputes
      Photos and postings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites can be used by your spouse, attorneys, and other matrimonial professionals to collect information, demonstrate irresponsible parenting, and instability. Disparaging remarks on the internet about the child’s other parent can show a failure to cooperate with the other parent. Failure to foster the child’s relationship with his or her other parent is a key factor in damaging children or losing custody. E-mails and text messages between parents, spouses, or significant others need to be done with care. They are often quoted or attached as exhibits in court documents or shown to mental health professionals in a family law matter. It may be best to be brief, informative, amicable, and firm in digital interactions with a difficult, explosive, or passive-aggressive person. A parent coordinator that monitors the e-mails and communication between parents is highly effective to reduce conflict. Many family lawyers/divorce professionals will advise people to stop social media during a custody or divorce situation so as not to inflame or compromise the already delicate and fragile family dynamics. It should be noted that in New York State and other states it is unethical for an attorney to anonymously “friend” their client’s spouse/other parent in a divorce or family matter.

One of the best uses of technology is to enhance the relationship between a geographically distant parent and child. Regular skype, facetime and other methods of video chatting has connected and sometimes cemented a child’s relationship with a parent, extended family and other people who are important to a child. We are a mobile society. Relocating or traveling for work or education is quite common. Real time video communication, seeing each other’s faces, or sharing a child’s favorite book is priceless when there is no other way to be physically together.

Cyber Abuse Is A Form Of Domestic Violence
      Cyber attacks are not just against corporations like Sony. One may be a victim of cyber abuse from a spouse or intimate partner. One in four stalking victims have been cyber-stalked. Cyber abuse includes but is not limited to threats, name-calling, and derogatory remarks in text messages, e-mails, and on social media sites. Incessant digital/electronic communication, including numerous hang-up calls, or persistent voicemails and text messages can be considered harassment by a family or criminal court. Stalking can occur by GPS devices placed on automobiles to trace one’s movement and by cellphone transmissions. It is not uncommon for a spouse in a divorce case to not only intercept telephone numbers and phone records of incoming and outgoing calls, but also voice messages and text messages. Abuse can also be accomplished through “caller-id spoofing”. A person can falsely identify him/herself by attaining different phone numbers and then implicate a spouse or significant other in criminal activity. Connection of a cordless phone can be monitored and cell phones are used as listening devices. Spy phones can be set up to read one’s call logs and e-mails.

Computer hacking permits one to gain access to private computer files. Spyware allow one to take snapshots of another’s computer through remote access. Creating false profiles, changing passwords to delete critical e-mails, sending fraudulent e-mails, interception of e-mails, distributing photos, videos, personal information, and damaging one’s public image, or employment through the internet occur in vindictive matrimonial matters. There are a number of social networking sites, including “Formspring”, “Intellius”, and “MySocial 24×7” that are used for GPS and camera surveillance. It is essential not only to improve cyber security but also to seek orders of protection against a perpetrator of cyber abuse.

The Child’s Voice, Technically Speaking
      Most children and teenagers of today have grown up with the internet and smart-phones. They receive homework assignments by e-mail, research on-line, and utilize texting and social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to stay connected with friends and relatives. Skilled computer science kids and their websites have enhanced creative and artistic expression. The “nerd” has many times become the new rock star. Children of divorce may be more prone to feelings of stress, sadness, and loneliness due to the changes and conflicts in their families. Children of divorce may experience the loss of contact with a parent or be alone more often, physically and emotionally because their parents are preoccupied with the divorce or organizing their new lives. The children might isolate themselves in a virtual world rather than “IRL” (in real life). They may be more vulnerable to cyber bullying. They may become exposed to extreme sex on the internet, making it difficult for them to have healthy personal relationships. Sexting with strangers, on-line relationships, and creating virtual personalities that show oneself in destructive behavior can cause physical and psychological damage; can lead to legal/criminal problems and harm educational and career opportunities. It is the parents’ obligation to reach out to their children in a way so they don’t shut down and to get themselves and their children the psychological help to navigate the family through the divorce process. Parents need to monitor and participate in their children’s virtual world without interfering with their healthy peer friendships. Parents need to encourage children to participate in high “touch” not just high-tech. Affection, sports, meals and cultural activities with family and friends are essential. Parents should be a role model (which is hard during divorce) and not use their children’s computer or social media sites or any computer that the kids may obtain access to for romance, pornography or communications they wouldn’t want their children to see. The computer savvy children of today can and will find digital information quite easily about you or what you are watching on-line.