Divorce: There’s an App for That
In messy divorce cases, splitting spouses can present a wide array of documents and evidence to convince a judge to tilt the scales in their favor. Now, the ever-increasing popularity of smartphones means more and more people are carrying around veritable factories of evidence admissible before the court.
A recent survey of divorce attorneys found that 92 percent of them have seen the use of smartphones increasing as evidence in divorce court over the last three years. The survey, conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), found that 94 percent of attorneys said the use of text messages in general as evidence is also on the rise.
“People make it so much easier for lawyers these days,” says AAML President Kenneth Altshuler. “It used to be we had to really look for evidence. Now they give it to us on a silver platter. Which we appreciate, by the way.”
Some 44 percent of Americans own smartphones, according to a recent Nielsen survey, an increase of 18 percent in the last two years. As a result, we are perpetually connected, and can share our thoughts with each other on a whim. The catch is, whatever we share is stored forever.
“Every time you write something to anyone, you have to assume a judge will eventually see it. This is a permanent record of what you’re thinking or feeling or saying,” Altshuler says. “If you don’t want a judge to read it, don’t write it.”
Text messages are the biggest culprits. “They show you’re making dates, saying what a great time you had last night, I wish I could have spent the whole night,” the attorney says.
Since most states have no-fault divorce laws, it’s not so much the evidence of an extra-marital affair that can put the screws to a divorcing party, but the fact that he or she is spending money on that affair, which can have repercussions in settlement, alimony and child support rulings.
“What gets it into evidence is the financial evidence,” Altshuler says. “Say you spent $200 in New York over the weekend. Now your phone says you had a great time in New York with someone named Brenda? It’s either a stripper, or someone you met, or your girlfriend.”
People can have official transcription services print out a record of their text messages, or even just show their phones to the judge to provide an example of their spouses’ misdeeds or misthoughts.
Email can be even more damning because it allows an angry (or amorous) party go on outside the 140 character limit of texts. “Email lets people have dialogue and ramble for pages on end,” says Altshuler. “I’ve gotten email saying if you were next to me right now I would strangle you. How do you explain that to a judge?”
People can also post incriminating photos or messages on Facebook, Twitter or other social media networks. The key is, with your iPhone or Android it’s ever-easier to make public comments on an impulse, without stopping to consider the ramifications.
“You are putting in writing your thoughts and feelings and behavior without thinking through who is able to see this,” Altshuler says. “That’s how you get yourself in trouble.”