Cyberstalking During Divorce
With social media apps, location tracking, and other online resources at our fingertips, protecting our privacy has become increasingly problematic. The digital age has made staying in contact with friends and family members easier than ever, but it has also created a new problem—cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is the act of harassing someone with the use of electronics, usually over email, through social media, or another digital outlets. Unfortunately, this has become a big problem in divorce cases.
The divorce process is already stressful and complicated enough without adding cyberstalking into the mix. If your spouse is cyberstalking you during your divorce, or if you think you may be guilty of cyberstalking, make sure you know how this issue could affect your divorce.
What is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is essentially a form of cyberbullying. A cyberstalker spies on their spouse online, reading through their Facebook page, Twitter posts, comments on Instagram, and sometime even looking at their friends’ accounts to gather more information. While this might seem harmless, cyberstalking can be extremely stressful for the victim and even dangerous, when the cyberstalker becomes threatening or aggressive in their behavior. For example, they may leave hostile messages and comments, or they might even create a fabricated account to bully their spouse online anonymously.
If you find yourself compulsively checking your spouse’s online profiles, even if you think your intentions are innocent, you could be guilty of cyberstalking. Most people who cyberstalk during a divorce do so to find out what their spouse has been doing since they separated. They might be looking for information about who their spouse is dating, where they’re spending their money, how they’re spending time with the kids, among other things. Some even go so far as to use their spouse’s passwords or otherwise hack into their accounts to get this information.
When does following your spouse’s online activity cross over into cyberstalking?
Some of your spouse’s public online information can, in fact, be helpful in a divorce case (e.g. if your spouse claims to have no assets but is spending on lavish items or vacations, or if you discover a violation of a temporary order like a parenting plan). Information from social media, such as Facebook, is increasingly being used as evidence in divorce and custody cases.
However, when someone uses the information they discover to intimidate, harass, embarrass, or threaten their spouse, this falls into the area of cyberstalking. As does hacking into a spouse’s accounts or setting up fake accounts in order to anonymously stalk or harass their spouse. Cyberstalking is illegal in several states and it can be considered as a form of domestic violence. Cyberstalking is currently illegal in Washington state.
Protecting Your Privacy
If you suspect your spouse may be cyberstalking you, or is currently harassing or threatening you online, make sure you know how to protect yourself and preserve your privacy.
As a rule, you should always be careful what you share online during your divorce because your spouse could use any public information against you in court. To avoid putting yourself in a precarious position, it is often best to take a social media break during your divorce. In particular, you should avoid mentioning anything about your divorce, your spouse, your children, your finances, and any romantic interests.
In any divorce, it is also good practice to immediately change your passwords for email accounts, social media accounts, your smartphone, and any other apps your spouse may have access to. Do not engage in arguments with your spouse over email, text, or on social media – speak to your divorce attorney about the best way to communicate with a contentious spouse.
Read here for more important guidelines for proper digital communications during a divorce.And read even more on social media and electronic communications in our complete Digital Divorce Guide.
When the Issue Becomes Criminal
If your cyberstalker is doing more than just reading your public posts and comments, you should consider what legal action you can against them. For example, they may attempt to hack your accounts to gain access to your private information, which is illegal if they do not have your permission to do so. They might also harass you, send threatening messages, or say things on your social media to insult your good name.
Incidents involving defamation, slander, false accusations, or threats that make you fear for your safety should be treated with extreme caution and could be considered criminal. When your spouse takes cyberstalking to a dangerous level, their actions could also be classified as a form of domestic violence, which is also a criminal charge. If you fear for your safety or if you feel threatened by your spouse’s actions, discuss your options with your attorney. For your immediate protection, you may be able to get a restraining order to prevent further contact, online or otherwise.If you have a family law or divorce issue that is being affected by cyberstalking, our firm can help. Contact McKinley Irvin at our Washington office to discuss your divorce case with our family law attorneys.