A husband or wife who thinks their spouse is cheating on them might be tempted to investigate and figure out what is going on. These days, checking up on someone usually involves a look at their computer, cell phone, or other electronic media devices. This is a form of cyber spying that can easily cross the line into illegal activity.
If you think your spouse is cheating on you or hiding information that may be relevant to your divorce, you should speak to a North Carolina divorce lawyer. There are legitimate ways to investigate your spouse’s activities. At Charles R. Ulman & Associates, we can counsel you on the use of digital spying and methods to gather evidence of marital misconduct that may be useful in your divorce proceedings.
Is It Legal to Spy on Your Spouse?
Even in a failing marriage, married couples often know a lot about each other’s business. You may share a computer. Some couples share online accounts, such as on social media. But the line between legal and illegal is drawn where one spouse has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
A surreptitious intrusion into an area of someone’s life that they have intentionally kept separate and beyond your knowledge is spying. It could be illegal.
For example, accessing a spouse’s password-protected account without permission would likely be considered illegal spying. The fact that the spouse took steps – the password – to ensure others could not access the account indicates that they had an expectation of privacy.
North Carolina’s Electronic Surveillance Act (NCGS § 15A-287) makes it a felony to willfully intercept, try to intercept, or hire someone to intercept any wire, oral or electronic communication without the consent of at least one party to the communication. This makes it illegal to try to access another person’s computer, phone, or network without their permission.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is a federal law that makes it a crime to access someone else’s private communications without permission. It covers cell phones, computer use, email, social media accounts, and other types of electronic communications.
However, if the means of spying involves a jointly-owned computer that both spouses use, it may be more difficult to make a case.
As you might suspect, both federal and state laws have exceptions for legitimate law enforcement activities.
Ways Your Spouse May Be Cyber Spying On You
Here are just a few ways a spying wife or husband might go about their electronic surveillance of your activities:
- Keyloggers. If keylogger software has been downloaded to a computer, it will track everything any user does on the computer – every keystroke, mouse click or website visited, and each side of any online chats. All this information gets stored in a file that can be reviewed later. This allows the cyber spy to collect any usernames, passwords, or credit card numbers entered on the computer.
- Spyware. Spyware lets a person secretly monitor and record information about the targeted person’s phone activity. In addition to call history and the phone’s location, the spyware user can use an app to see text messages sent and received, photos and videos taken, and websites visited. A person must have access to your phone to install spyware, but it runs in stealth mode without any notification or identifying activity. It can be difficult to detect or remove.
- GPS trackers. A GPS tracking device attached to your car allows the individual who has placed it there to monitor where you go in that vehicle. GPS tracking devices are inexpensive and easy to use. One may be hidden almost anywhere on a vehicle. With an active GPS tracker, the car’s current location is shown on a map accessed with the accompanying app. With a passive tracker, the user can’t follow the subject’s every move. Instead, they must obtain the device and download stored information onto a computer.
- Social media spy apps. There are several apps available that allow people to spy on Facebook and Facebook Messenger or other social media applications and sometimes even monitor a target’s phone calls, email, and text messages.
If you believe that your spouse is stalking you and your safety is endangered, you have a right to seek a protection order. Charles Ullman & Associates can review your circumstances and help you request a restraining order if needed.
How Spying on Your Spouse May Affect Your Divorce Case
If you believe your spouse is cheating on you, talk to a knowledgeable divorce attorney before taking matters into your own hands. Simply put, you will not look good if it comes out in court that you have been spying on your spouse during your separation and divorce. Things can get out of hand quickly. The more intrusive your scheme, the worse it will sound, even if you gathered evidence of your spouse’s wrongdoing.
This is important to consider. In a contested divorce, the judge has great leeway when considering such issues as spousal support (alimony), child custody and support, and division of assets.
You could ruin your good standing with the court and suffer the consequences if your spouse accuses you of cyberstalking and explains to the court what you’ve done. North Carolina law allows a victim of cyber spying to sue for damages.
Contact Our Divorce Lawyers Before You Make a Mistake
There are times when it’s appropriate to hire a private investigator and examine an estranged spouse’s activities as part of your divorce. At Charles R. Ullman & Associates, PLLC, we conduct thorough investigations when warranted as part of our separation and divorce legal services.
For guidance on what to do if you suspect your husband or wife is cheating or spying on you, call the experienced Raleigh divorce lawyers at Charles R. Ullman & Associates today. You can schedule a consultation now by calling (919) 336-0870 or using our online contact form.