Digital Divorce Part 1: Cutting Digital Ties
By Snyder Sarno D'Aniello Maceri da Costa LLC on June 19, 2023
Do Not Forget About Your Cellphone: A Checklist for Cutting Digital Ties Connecting You and Your Ex-Partner.
In Family and Divorce Law, many positive technological advancements are exploited and used for unintended and sometimes illegal purposes, for example continuing to use a Family iCloud account after divorce proceedings commence to access Find My iPhone to keep tabs on their ex-spouse. Or by overusing a common and known password, an ex-partner gains access to accounts on food delivery, car services, city bikes, and other apps created to make our lives easier but now leave a digital footprint of where and how we spend our time.
The challenge posed by digital stalking is that it is hard to prove, and when tracking a partner's movements using modern technology, it often goes unnoticed. At the same time, it takes almost all intuitive knowledge and no skill to maintain tabs on your ex-partner. The good news is that some easy and common-sense steps can help you sever those digital ties before they can be abused and leave you vulnerable to being stalked by your partner during and after the relationship ends.
We compiled a checklist of places to start looking, monitoring, and cutting those digital ties. This list is not exhaustive; digital links connecting you to your ex-partner are limited, likely only by the amount of personal information they know about you and their imagination of new ways to keep tabs. However, this list will help you think of the logical next places to look where your partner might have a digital eye on you, and likely you will find yourself thinking of possible ties that we should have mentioned.
Where to start looking and how to sever those digital ties can be compiled into four main groups:
Dual Factor Authentication,
Turning on Security Alerts and
Location Sharing Devices.
As a first step, we suggest you take a catalog of all your shared accounts with your partner. Shared accounts include cellular apps, online profiles, websites, portals, and anything else you and your partner share a user profile for, know the login information, or both have physical access. These commonly include:
- Family Plan Accounts (iCloud accounts and cellphone plans)
- Apps you share a user profile for (Uber and Door Dash)
- Shared Email accounts (Gmail, Outlook)
- Social Media Accounts (Facebook and Instagram)
- Cloud Services (Shared Folders, Google Drive, One Drive, Notes app on the iPhone)
- Shared Smart Devices (Ring doorbell and Nest)
- Car Apps (Tesla app, HondaLink, Toyota app)
This step can seem like a pain, but by cataloging all shared accounts, you will better understand where your partner is still digitally attached to you. Then you can consider whether you are comfortable with your current or ex-partner still having access or if you feel a separation of the account is necessary.
Changing one's password is the same as changing the locks on your home after a breakup or divorce. Just as you no longer want your ex to be able to walk through your front door and have full access to your home, you no longer want them logging into your online accounts to access the personal information stored or derived from there. Changing your password to your accounts online is necessary to keep them locked out of that portion of your personal life.
Once you take note of the shared accounts you have with your partner, you must digitally separate, for example, converting your Family iCloud account to a Personal iCloud account. Then you must pick an appropriate password to maintain control of your digital accounts. It is essential to consider with an open mind all the accounts your partner could gain access to, not from the viewpoint of having a logical reason to access the account but of the possibility that they know or could guess your login information, and then you should change the password.
As much as we hate random passwords, you must consider selecting new login credentials that are hard to guess no birthdays, names of children, pets, or hobbies. In addition, consider the account's "Forgot My Password" option; if based on a security question, do not use questions that your ex-partner knows about you, such as "your mother's maiden name." Or if you recover your password with a second email address, ensure your spouse does not have access to the email so they can gain control. The good news is that if your password changes, you can know someone accessed your account that was not you.
Dual Factor Authentication and Turning on Security Alerts
Next, we suggest using Dual Factor Authentication and turning on security alerts on your digital accounts to monitor for digital ties. Dual Factor Authentication is an underutilized security step everyone should take whenever possible. Dual Factor means that to gain access to your account, you will have to go through two steps to prove you are likely the user that should have access to the account. For example, in Step 1, you will log in with the registered password. Step 2, you will be sent a code to a second registered email or phone number and must enter the code to access the account. Dual Factor is a great way to secure access to online accounts, especially if you save your email and password on the device, so a person logging in through your device would not even have to know the login credentials to get into your account.
Turning on Security Alerts
Ideally, we suggest that you log out of your accounts and not save your digital passwords on your device; however, we understand it is unrealistic for some, so if you choose to save passwords, you should log out every time and turn on "login security alerts" whenever possible. Most social media websites and email accounts offer such alerts; it sends you an email or text message every time someone logs into your account. The security alert will include information such as what type of device someone logged into your account from (Mac, iPhone 13Pro) and their general location when they logged in. Therefore, you will receive an alert and can deduce if your ex or current partner has logged into your account.
Location Sharing Devices
The last thing we want to bring to your attention is the numerous amounts of location-sharing devices on the market, all designed to make our lives easier, such as the "Title" to attach to your keys or wallet to find if you misplace them or Apple's AirTag to place on your dog's collar. In addition to the apps or built-in phone features where you share your location like Snapchat maps, Find my Friends/ iPhone, and contacts you shared your location with. All can effortlessly be used, so your current or ex-partner can keep track of your location. Whether they slip an AirTag or Title into your bag or your car or take advantage of places where you share your location, these are all ways your partner can cheaply stalk you, often going unnoticed.
The behavior of monitoring and using modern apps is a slippery slope to Harassment and Stalking, which under New Jersey law, can qualify as an act of Domestic Violence, leading to restraining orders and possible jail time. (See N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19.) Additionally, in New Jersey, you can seek a divorce on fault grounds, like a cheating partner, so one can use digital ties to obtain evidence before or while entering separation proceedings. (See N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2.) Whether you are currently in a relationship, but especially when breaking up or considering entering or going through a separation or divorce proceeding, you must assess both your physical and digital connections to your partner to determine if you are vulnerable.
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