Snooping and Spying Spouses

It’s a horrible feeling when you “know” in your gut that your spouse is cheating, but if you’re not careful snooping may land you in a great deal of legal trouble. A 2012 Wall Street Journal article reports several instances of spouses who were convicted of stalking, harassment, invasion of privacy, and violations of the federal Wiretap Act for going too far. In addition to criminal charges, the even greater risk is civil penalties. There are several instances in which a spouse was ordered to pay upward of $20,000 in damages for illegally accessing their spouse’s electronic communications.

Even your spouse has a legal right to privacy. Federal wiretapping laws protect personal communications, as do many state laws, from unauthorized access. In this age of technology snooping has many forms from reading email messages, reading text messages, recording conversations, using hidden cameras, accessing Facebook accounts, utilizing “find my iPhone” features to track movement, to GPS tracking. In 2012, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported, 92% of divorce attorneys have seen a rise in the use of information obtained from smartphones, particularly test messages, as evidence in divorce proceedings. As has been declared – “Divorce: There’s an App for that.” Assuming you dig something up, however, it may not necessarily be admissible in court.

Judges tend to frown upon parties who attempt do-it-yourself unearthing of evidence. There are many evidentiary issues that could prevent the evidence from being considered by the court, including authentication, hearsay, and fruit of the poisonous tree. Once a case is filed in the Family Court, however, your attorney will have the right to obtain your spouse’s phone records, emails, Facebook posts, etc. through a formal (and legal) process called “discovery.’ A licensed private investigator can also (legally) obtain the evidence needed to prove your case in court. 

Bottom line: If it feels like you are invading your spouse’s privacy, you are probably obtaining the information illegally. The risks likely outweigh the benefit. You will be better served by hiring an attorney to guide you through the legal process. Also, it’s important not to lose yourself in the course of a divorce –

You know who and what your [spouse] is, so the question is who you are and what has this marriage done to you. You know that being an electronic parole officer is not going to make your [spouse] faithful and reliable. You say [s]he has put your health at risk and your marriage is a sham. So the real question is not whether your snooping is justified, but when you are going to decide to get out.

(Emily Yoffe, Ethics of Spying on Your Spouse,, October 23, 2012.)


How do I choose the right attorney? And, how much will it cost?

Last week, Laura Moore, who is a dear friend and colleague, shared an article titled “What Do You Say When Prospects Ask How Much You Charge.” Although, the article was targeted at Trust and Estate attorneys, the message resonates with anyone uneasy about the expense of legal representation or how to choose the right attorney. Having adapted the message a little, I hope the remarks below will elucidate how my relationship with a client starts.

First, let me say, if you’re shopping around for the attorney offering the best deal, stop. This is the wrong approach and I’m glad I caught you in time. The question you want to ask first is “What do I really need from my attorney to ensure my rights, my family, and my finances are protected and cared for the way I want?” Far too many people decide which attorney to hire based on what it’s going to cost. Sometimes, that may be the right criteria. Most of the time it’s not.

The problem is you don’t know what you don’t know. When you get on the internet to find a cheap attorney or fill out canned documents from a book or DIY kit from the web, you don’t know what you are actually putting into place or setting in motion. It may be difficult, or impossible, and much more expensive to fix these errors later.

When you hire me, you aren’t paying for documents. You are hiring me for my guidance. When you hire me, you aren’t renting my time, but my brain and my heart. You are hiring an ally who will help you through the circumstances that come out of left field, the deals you weren’t bargaining for, and the out of the blue change of heart by you or the other side. It’s my job to anticipate the unanticipated and to calculate a wise and informed course of action.

When you call and ask how much I charge, I can’t give you an answer because I don’t even know what you need. Maybe the other side will negotiate, maybe they won’t. Maybe your situation is simple, maybe it’s not. Maybe there are issues or consequences you haven’t realized yet. If I quote you a fee over the phone and then you come into my office and you need so much more, you’ll be angry with me. So, I won’t answer your question over the phone. Because I don’t charge for documents. I charge for advice, guidance, counsel and support.

Our process begins with a Consultation. This gives us an opportunity to get to know each other and decide if we’re a good fit. It is also a time for me to identify the issues in your case, so I can then quote you an initial retainer to get us started on your case.

If you decide to hire me, you will be asked to complete a package of information so I can be fully informed of the facts of your case. This homework will also help keep your fees down early in the case. The more you tell me, and the more information and documents you provide, the less digging I have to do, which saves you money. I want you to receive the greatest benefit from my time. This is why your cooperation is necessary. Remember, you’re hiring me for my guidance. To provide the best and most effective legal representation, we have to work together as a team.

Whether I ever write any formal legal documents for you or not, I want every interaction of ours to be extremely valuable to you. To that end, you will likely be asked to provide additional documents and information throughout your case. No one knows the facts of your case better than you. I’ll refer to the homework you complete for much of the essential facts of your case. Then, we’ll invest our time together exploring your life, what’s best for your children, and how to secure your financial future.

You will feel cared about, informed, educated, and empowered to make the best decisions for the people and things that matter most in your life. We’ll determine the best course of action for you by working together. You will make decisions on how to proceed with my guidance. Then, I will help you take care of the things that are important to you and achieve your goals in your legal proceeding.

How do you choose a lawyer, if not based on price?

Get referrals from your friends and family.

Ask attorneys HOW they charge and what makes their office different than others.

Schedule a consultation to see if their practice style is in line with your legal goals.

See what attorneys stand out in your community. Is there a lawyer who is actively involved in your community? That lawyer cares and is putting their reputation on the line every day.

When you find the right lawyer, he or she will likely be a member of your team for the long term, not for just this one matter. Your lawyer should be approachable and not only want to be in a long-term relationship with you, but have systems and resources to support that relationship.

If you’re facing a legal issue, please call my office to schedule a consultation, so we can figure out how to best meet your needs.