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Is your divorcing spouse a digital spy?

On Behalf of | May 22, 2019 | divorce

A woman called M was starting to suspect that the husband she was divorcing might be having her followed. He always seemed to have up-to-date information about where she had been and exactly when. She started modifying her driving habits to avoid anyone following her. She was never able to spot the PI, though.

Then she learned about GPS location trackers. She asked her mechanic to look for one, and he found a small black box near her front tire. A clerk showed her how to see how long the batteries would last, and it seemed as if the tracker had only been in use for a few weeks. M had left her husband almost a year earlier.

M reported the intrusion to the police, but the prosecutor refused to file any charges — even after M’s husband admitted installing the tracker. That was because M and her husband were in the midst of their divorce and still owned the car jointly. By installing a GPS tracker on a car he jointly owned, M’s husband had done nothing illegal.

Naturally, however, M found the entire incident quite frightening, especially as she says her husband had been abusive.

“I am now fully aware that all of those times that I thought I was keeping myself safe, 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 told NPR in an interview.

Digital spying is becoming more common in divorces

Since the smartphone age began, installing spyware has gotten easier and more common. In divorces, people sometimes install spyware in order to obtain evidence of things like suspected child abuse, infidelity and the like.

That may seem legitimate, but installing spyware could run afoul of laws against wiretapping or intercepting electronic communications. If it does, the evidence might not be admissible in court.

Another reason people may install devices like GPS trackers or spyware is to gain control over their spouse after the marriage has broken up.

That was probably what was happening in M’s case. After she discovered the GPS monitor, she began getting suspicious about possible spyware. She noticed that her husband often appeared to know the contents of text messages she had sent.

Concerned that her iPhone might have been compromised, M asked Apple store employees for help identifying any spyware. Instead, they simply swapped her phone for a new one. Unfortunately, that meant any evidence of spyware was lost with that old phone.

If you suspect cyber stalking, talk to your lawyer

According to 2012 data from the Justice Department, an estimated 1.5% of all American adults have been victims of stalking. Among those who are separated or divorced, however, the rate doubled to 3.3%. With computer and phone technology taking off at ever-greater speeds, however, those numbers may be bigger now.

In Georgia and other states, stalking is a criminal offense. Our state defines it as following, surveillance or contact that is meant to harass and intimidate, and it is a misdemeanor. Victims can also seek restraining orders from the courts, and continuing to stalk someone after a protective order or injunction has been issued is considered aggravated stalking and is a felony.

If you suspect your divorcing spouse is stalking or tracking you, a good place to start is with your divorce attorney. Many family law attorneys can help you get a restraining order and can explain how evidence of stalking could affect your case.