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Could your divorcing spouse be digitally spying on you?

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP July 3, 2019

In 2012, the Justice Department tried to determine how common stalking is in the U.S. They estimated that about 1.5 percent of all American adults had been victims of stalking. For people who were divorced or separated, the number was more than twice that, at 3.3 percent.

NPR recently published a story about a woman, referred to as “M”, who found out her husband was monitoring her movements and communications during their divorce. She figured it out when she noticed he always seemed to have up-to-date information about her movements and conversations. Thinking that a private investigator might be following her, she started changing the way she drove. Then she worried her husband, who she says had been abusive, might have installed a GPS tracker installed on her car.

She was right. Her mechanic found the device near her front tire. It turns out that since she and her husband still owned the car jointly, there was nothing illegal about her husband’s having installed it.

Still, it was profoundly disturbing. “I am now fully aware that all of those times that I thought I was keeping myself safe,” she told NPR, “all of those times that I was leaving town, all of those times that I was staying in different places, staying at friends’ houses, I never was safe.”

She went on to trade in her cellphone for a replacement, just in case her husband had installed spyware on the phone. It’s generally illegal to put a tracker on a spouse’s phone without their consent, although trackers can be legal in certain situations.

NPR spoke with dozens of marital experts, who all agreed that digital spying is becoming more and more common in divorces. Sometimes, the spying is done in order to obtain evidence of drug abuse, child neglect or infidelity. Other times, it’s simply a matter of an ex trying to maintain control once a relationship has ended.

Don’t let spyware into your divorce

If you are getting a divorce and suspect that your ex has been tracking you, talk to your divorce attorney. They can help you determine whether the particular behavior you’re concerned about is illegal. Even if the behavior doesn’t meet the legal definition of stalking, your lawyer has other avenues to stop the behavior.   

If you are considering using spyware or location trackers to gather evidence, discuss it with your attorney before you take any steps. Using these devices may be illegal and could negatively impact your case, or expose you to criminal or civil liability.