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In circumstances where our lives are ever increasingly intertwined with technology, there are some really basic safety and security issues that we should be aware of. But particularly so in the context of separation and divorce.
As family solicitors, we are often told by our clients that they think their ex-partner might have been reading their emails or looking at their text messages. In more concerning situations, some of our clients share that they believe they are being stalked by their ex-partner, either online or with the assistance of readily available technology.
The latest ONS crime survey statistics revealed that over 20% of those adults who have experienced partner abuse had been victims of stalking. However, as victims do not tend to report stalking incidents to the police until the 100th incident, it is likely that these figures are significantly higher. One charity estimates that about 45% of people are being stalked by their ex-partners.
Even if you do not believe that you are a victim of stalking, you may suspect that your ex-partner has been accessing information about you that they shouldn’t have. In the context of a divorce, such information could be accessed by an ex-partner to check on your finances, see if you are cohabiting with a new partner, or to ensure that you are looking after any children when you say you are (particularly when separated parents are locked in conflict about child arrangements).
With this in mind, we have set out below what people navigating a separation should be aware of in terms of the technology that they are using, and some tips to minimise the chances that your ex will be able to misuse the same.
Probably the most common complaint that we receive is about an ex looking through emails or text messages. Given that most families will share a laptop or tablet, this can be an innocent mistake: your ex is supervising your child’s time on a tablet and a message pops up meant for you because it is your account that is logged in to that device.
It is essential that once you separate, you log out of everything and change your passwords to something that your ex will not guess. Changing security questions as well will mean that it is less likely that your ex will be able to regain access to that account.
Do you own any of the following internet enabled devices: car; doorbell; watch; phone; TV; gaming console; nanny cam? Are you aware that all of these devices can monitor and record you? Cars, watches and phones in particular can be used to track movements, and nanny cams can be turned on remotely to monitor what is going on inside the home.
Be smart about what technology you have and how to best manage it and be aware of how to disable those features that can monitor or record you and prevent them from being reactivated. If you are not sure about what you need to do, there are plenty of websites that can offer basic tips on how to ‘secure’ your lifestyle.
Not just in the context of not airing your dirty laundry in public, but also in what you post about your life. Even with location and tracking services turned off, it is still possible to gain a lot of information about you from the photos and comments you post online.
Be careful about what you post, ensure that your privacy settings on all of your social media accounts are updated, and consider cutting down on ‘friends’ who do not need to be privy to the details about your personal life.
Most people have anti-virus software on their PC or laptops, but not on their phones. Installing this is a must, particularly if you think your ex might try to gain information from you through spyware. Indicators that there might be something installed on your phone that shouldn’t be there are if your data usage has suddenly increased, or your battery life is draining a lot faster than it used to. If in doubt, speak to an expert.
If you are concerned that spyware may have been installed onto your computer, ask an expert to inspect this.
If you feel uncomfortable or suspect that something is not quite right, talk to someone as soon as possible about your concerns.
If you are worried about any of the issues raised in this blog, speak to your family lawyer about what steps you might be able to put in place in order to protect yourself.
If you think you might be the victim of stalking, you should speak to the police. There are also a number of charities devoted to stalking victims who will be able to provide you with further advice.
Hannah Gumbrill-Ward is an Associate family law solicitor in our Brighton team. If you would like to discuss your individual situation with one of our specialists, please contact us for a confidential, initial conversation.