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Splitting up in the digital era

Jul 24, 2017   ·   5 minute read

This blog looks at the most frequent queries Evolve receives about separating in an age where almost everything is carried out electronically and online.

As a specialist family finance solicitor, with many years of experience in helping couples split up, I’m old enough to remember the days before lawyers used e-mail to communicate with clients, solicitors and the Court. Correspondence by Royal Mail was often painfully slow and frustrating. Nowadays a reply can be sent with the touch of a button or, when I am particularly lazy, using voice recognition technology. However, speed of reply isn’t necessarily always the best thing.

I had always assumed that progress and change must be for the good but when it comes to separation and divorce I do sometimes hark back to the age where paperwork was sent out by post so separating spouses felt they had time to reflect on a document rather than feeling under pressure to read and review the correspondence on smartphone or i-pad and quickly give what could be life changing instructions by e-mail or text. All too often now even if there aren’t any Court directed or other time pressures a spouse can feel under a self-imposed deadline to press reply and that can result in hasty decisions. Even in this digital age the old adage act in haste, repent at leisure can hold true.

Despite my occasional misgivings about the use of technology, the opportunity to video conference, Facetime and Skype the many international Evolve clients, who are based abroad but want to give face to face instructions, is a real bonus. Equally importantly as a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, I frequently need to consult with other solicitors and experts in foreign jurisdictions and Skype makes the job so much easier.

At Evolve we have seen an increase in enquiries about family matters involving social media and digital information. That is down to a number of reasons including:

  • People using social media to interact and those communications often being traced and cited in divorce proceedings. That is likely to remain the case while one of the grounds for divorce is ‘unreasonable behaviour’;
  • Spouse or family members feeling aggrieved by a separation and posting an inappropriate image or comment on social media, such as Facebook. It is not just celebrities such as Mel B who complain that private photos or videos have been posted online;
  • Ex- partners using social media to continue to track their ex’s whereabouts, often assisted by their ex not resetting their privacy settings;
  • The use of digital financial or personal documents held on a shared i-pad or documents being accessed remotely as a result of passwords not being changed or the continued use of i-cloud sharing.

It is important that family solicitors, in this digital age, are proactive and help guide clients through what is permissible and what isn’t. Some of these activities will land a client in hot water or even be classed as a criminal offence and others might be the only way that a client can legitimately learn about family finances.

So what is and isn’t allowed? Well, that depends so much on individual facts that it is impossible to set out hard and fast rules. To do so would give a false sense of security as it all turns on individual circumstances. What is also just as important to consider is how the social media actions will be viewed by the Court and by the ex. The use of social media or accessing digital documents may or may not be technically legal but a Court may, in any event, view the action in a dim light or the action may make it far harder for the couple to talk and settle childcare or financial matters. The action, often done in the heat of the moment through a swipe of the finger or the press of a button, can be counterproductive and lead to greater legal cost and complexity. The best advice is not to let the digital era allow you to act in haste and repent at leisure and to take advice before send is pressed.

Despite some of the challenges of advising on family law in a digital age the benefits of being able to e-mail the Court with documents or to arrange face-time or Skype contact between separated families when one parent is based abroad or just in another part of the country makes me conclude that I don’t want to go back to the days of communicating by Royal Mail. The judicious use of technology can bring separated families closer together in an age of international relocation and proactive expert advice on use of social media when splitting up can avoid some of the horror stories that we all read in the online press reports.

For advice on any aspect of family law please contact me on 01625 728012 or email me.