YOUR COMPUTER AND DIVORCE
Generally, where a computer is used at home by both spouses, one spouse can legally search the computer for information relevant to a divorce proceeding. However, a spouse cannot wrongfully obtain password-protected information from the computer. By way of example, a laptop which is primarily used by Husband for working at home, paying bills, maintaining finances, as well as leisure activities and electronic mail, may be searched by Wife provided Wife has access to the computer-regardless of frequency with which wife accesses the computer. Unless Wife has been prohibited from using the computer via password or other protective software, Husband has no reasonable expectation of privacy for non privacy protected information on the computer. Wife may accordingly, legally search those files. A distinction must be made however, in that courts have found that Husband has a reasonable expectation of privacy as to those files which are password or otherwise privacy protected. It is important that a professional is consulted if a spouse seeks to perform such a search. In today's ever-evolving technological climate, state and federal laws are constantly changing so as to keep up with the technology. There already exist state and federal prohibitions on wrongfully obtaining electronic communications and records. These prohibitions are akin to wiretapping laws, which prevent unknown tapings of telephonic communications. In fact, courts have specifically held that spouses are not immune from these statutes. Care must be taken so as to properly obtain the relevant information from a hard drive. Courts have also recognized that a plethora of relevant information may be discovered via a hard drive search. Internet searches and downloads, emails, pictures, and "instant messages" may contain information crucial to all stages of a divorce proceeding, including custody determinations. Discovery is liberal and broad, and litigants are encouraged to properly obtain all information relevant to a court's decision. Litigants should be reminded that discovery, particularly electronic discovery, can be obtained prior to filing for divorce. At this times, there may be the most qualitative and quantitative electronic evidence available.