As technology continues to change our lives at a rapid pace, it’s easy to forget that so much of our most valuable and private information now hides in our computers, in our email accounts, phones, text messages iPads, and other devices. When you love someone, it may seem only natural and convenient to share your various passwords and account information or to leave your devices unprotected. However, when relationships become conflicted breakups, these security lapses can result in humiliating disasters with far-reaching consequences. As lawmakers try to keep up to help protect our information, it is more important than ever before to be aware of what is legal, what isn’t legal, and what steps you need to take in order to protect yourself from someone accessing your information for malicious purposes.
What are my online privacy rights?
Putting it bluntly, when you’re in a marriage or live-in relationship, you don’t have many. Texas did recently pass a bill (CSHB 896) to help define what a cyber-crime actually is, but it mostly doesn’t apply in this arena. Specifically, the law says a person commits an offense if they knowingly access a computer, network or system “with the intent to defraud or harm another or alter, damage, or delete property.” Although this language sounds reassuring, it is important to note that spouses are often given extraordinary leeway by courts with regards to what many would consider a reasonable invasion of privacy. In many instance, your spouse may still access anything in your computer, emails, or phone, and potentially even use that as evidence in any court proceedings. There are many examples of spouses aggressively attempting to do exactly that and successfully leveraging whatever they find to obtain custody, favorable settlements, or other advantages.
So what can I do?
If you are going through a divorce or break up,
- Immediately tell your spouse/ex that they DO NOT have permission to access any of your accounts, and document the message. You do have a right to privacy, but only after it is clearly determined that the relationship is severed. If they continue to try to access your information after that, then they are potentially committing a criminal offense, and at the very least, any information they discover after written notice may not be admissible in court.
- CHANGE ALL OF YOUR PASSWORDS, and do it right away. Most of the popular online email services (Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) actually track your internet usage and display that information to anyone with your password who knows where to look. What about iCloud / Apple? If your spouse has your password, they can actually log in to iMessage from anywhere, see all of your past texts and read any texts that you receive in real time. Depending on your device settings, they may even be able to track your actual location. Change your passwords, and…
- If you can, enable two-step verification on all accounts which offer it. This extra step will guarantee that nobody can access your account without your knowledge and permission.
In short, there is still a lot of gray area as our legal system struggles to keep up with technology. The smartest thing you can do is make sure you protect your accounts, stay away from your spouse’s, and exercise caution in anything you do online or on your phone.
Now that the Texas Legislature has ended, we will review some of the bills passed that will affect our Family Law Cases.
S.B. 814 Waivers of Citations in Certain Family Law Suits
Currently, the state of Texas allows for a parties involved in a divorce to waive service. Loosely translated, that means that the person named in the divorce suit can sign a paper which proactively tells the relevant court that they are officially aware their spouse is filing for divorce. This waiver means they don’t have to physically be served with the divorce papers by their spouse or a process server, potentially saving everyone involved a bit of time, money, and maybe some emotional pain
S.B. 814 was introduced to further the use of such waivers to apply to other common family law matters.
The waiver should also be used for:
- Suits to remove disability of a minor (commonly referred to as emancipation)
- Suits to change the name of an adult or child
- Any suits relating to a parent-child relationship
The bill passed and will take effect on September 1, 2015.
S.B. 817: Issuance of a protective order and appointment of a managing conservator in certain family law proceedings.
S.B. 817 proposes that the state change the language on applications for protective orders (restraining orders, etc.) by switching the word “victim” with the phrase “applicant for a protective order.” Specifically, this change is meant to help those people who are applying for the protective order on behalf of the actual victim of the abuse or violence.
Some judges are currently reluctant to sign orders which list the applicant as a “victim” because doing so indirectly endorses the allegations of abuse as being true without a trial. With the label change, it removes that concern and will enable judges to issue more orders to protect those in need.
The bill passed virtually unopposed, and will take effect on September 1, 2015.
S.B. 314: Appointment of a non-parent as managing conservator of a child.
This law addresses a growing number of complaints by relatives who assume custody of children removed from their parents’ homes by CPS (Child Protective Services). This type of custody is called “permanent managing conservatorship,” or PMC. It is not adoption and does not carry the same legal meaning, but many relatives claim that these differences are not clarified by CPS.
As a result, the bill requires a court awarding custody to specifically explain 3 common misunderstandings to the relatives or non-parents assuming PMC.
- PMC rights are specified by the court, and are not the same as rights associated with adoption
- The parent(s) can still request visitation, and can request to become the managing conservator
- PMC does not qualify nor disqualify the relative or non-parent for/from post-adoption benefits
The bill states that if the non-parent assuming PMC does not appear in court, the court must then have evidence that they were advised of this information.
The bill passed without opposition, and will take effect on September 1, 2015.
In 2014, The United States at 53%, had the 10th highest divorce rate in the world! According to the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology: 50% of first marriages, 67% of second marriages and 74% of third marriages end in Divorce in the United States.
Marriages do not break up overnight. There is not one incident or one party that ends a marriage. Your emotional break up usually extends over several years with the marriage parties continually at different stages in the emotional process.
Just remember,” no marriage is totally bad nor totally good!” Do not go fault finding! Both partners stay in a marriage for a longer period of time because there are good things about it. Now the couple is divorcing because the “bad” things make the marriage not work anymore.
A new divorce survey by Slater and Gordon Law Firm (survey of 1000 divorced people) recently came out with some very interesting results:
- The average person will spend about 2 years thinking about a divorce before they file.
- During this time the average person spends 18 months really trying to fix their marriage and working to save it.
- 76% try to fix their marriage problems before deciding on a divorce
- 53% discuss divorce with someone besides their spouse before filing
- 36% spoke with an attorney before deciding on a divorce
What are the emotional stages a couple will experience leading up to a divorce?
1. Disillusionment of one / two marriage partners ( not verbalized to other partner)
- Continued, ongoing feelings of discontent, pent up resentments and breach of trust
- Emotional feelings of anxiety, anger, denial, depression ,fear, grief, guilt ,and love
- Real problem but unacknowledged
- Developing greater distance, lack of mutuality, and increase in arguments
- Consideration of pros and cons of possible divorce and/or separation
2. Verbalized Dissatisfaction ( no legal action yet)
- Feelings of anguish, doubt, emotional, grief, guilt, relief, and tension after expression of discontent is now in the open!
- Marriage counseling and giving “one last try” for the marriage
3. Decision to Divorce ( no legal action yet)
- Feelings of anger, anxiety of the future, guilt, resentment, and sadness
- Other partner now in emotional stage one and both parties feeling victimized by each other.
- Realizes this decision is usually not reversible
Divorce Decision Action (the legal process begins)
- Feelings of anger, blame, shame, fear, and guilt
- Emotional and physical separation
- Going public with decision to family and friends
- Dealing with the “Children Problem”. No way around this one.
- Hiring an attorney and start the divorce process
4. Acceptance of Divorce / Single Life ( during the legal process or after)
- Many life adjustments: emotional, mental, and physical
- Realization that the marriage was not fulfilling or happy
- Dealing with your children and helping them to understand they are loved and did not cause the end of the marriage
- Work on developing the “new single you”, new identity and a plan for the future!
This emotional roller-coaster may take years to complete, but keep focused and you will get through it. Surround yourself with competent legal professionals who will help you through this life changing event.
Just remember this: the divorce emotional stages are a normal occurrence when going through a divorce. Outside of a death, divorce is one of the most life changing events in an individual’s life. This list is very basic and you will probably add many other emotions on to the list You are not alone. It is a grieving process and you will recover.