These days, much of our important information is stored in our personal computers, on the internet and across other electronic devices. Unfortunately, it is now becoming common for this information to be accessed and used, without consent, by a former partner or spouse after separation.
As an advisor, you are often one of the first professionals to learn that a couple is considering separation or that they have already decided to separate. You may even be in a position where you are assisting both parties involved.
In this article, we share our recommendations that we hope will help your clients in protecting their private and sensitive information during the separation and divorce process.
We’ve also created this into a PDF checklist that we invite you to share with your clients where you see fit. Download it here.
Tip 1: Update These Key Passwords
As family lawyers, one of the first pieces of advice we provide to our clients, if they are considering separation from their spouse or partner, or have already taken the leap, is to change specific passwords. It is common these days for couples to be sharing accounts and passwords, and, even if the separation is thought to be amicable, it is always advisable that passwords are changed in order to avoid potential reviewing of confidential data.
Changing passwords to platforms that are easy access points is a great way to start. These include:
If your client is engaging in communications with a solicitor, their former spouse or partner viewing this and potentially reviewing confidential communications, puts any advice given by their lawyer at risk of waiving legal professional privilege.
Tip 2: Review Bank Account Access
Financial considerations can be stressful for most couples during a separation, especially where joint bank accounts are involved. If your client has a personal bank account, even if the former spouse or partner does not have access to it, it is always advisable to change the password and account login. Make sure the password is original and different to any others, to ensure that it cannot be guessed.
Where there are joint accounts that do not require both signatures to withdraw funds, it is important that your client consults their lawyer in relation to the options available to them. One option to consider may be to ensure that payments being processed by one party are always required to be authorised by the other, however careful consideration should be given to the necessity of this and the potential impact on their own access to funds prior to doing so. Every action has a reaction, so this is best discussed with a family lawyer beforehand. This also means that any existing ongoing bank transactions are continued until after a settlement.
Tip 3: Device and App Interconnectivity
Another possible risk for your clients is interconnected devices. It is common for couples and families to be on family plans such as iCloud, which can seem like a good idea at the time, however in the case of a separation, means that a former partner or spouse can gain access to:
- Shared devices
- Shared photos
- Text messages
- Internet history
This interconnectivity exposes a risk of easy accessibility and the capacity for a former spouse to access confidential information as well as location details, particularly relevant for anyone experiencing family violence.
It is also easy to overlook commonly used access points such as Gmail, Dropbox and Google Drive which are interconnected and means a former partner or spouse can oversee potential communications between you as their advisor or your client’s solicitor.
Apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Find My iPhone, are often shared or linked between couples and should either have their passwords changed or removed from the access of a former partner or spouse when considering separation. These apps can provide access to location and can allow a former partner or spouse to track their partners whereabouts using certain settings. Where family or domestic violence is involved, or a client has fears for their and/or their families safety, turning off access to these apps is very important.
As an advisor, it can be critical if your clients are unaware of which products are interconnected. We encourage you to prompt them to have a look at their own devices, apps and other products that may ‘speak’ to each other. Encourage them to take steps to change their passwords, remove a former partner or spouse’s access to an account or product, or remove themselves from a shared account.
Tip 4: Social Media Usage and General Communication
While this may seem obvious, another consideration for you to advise your client of, is their use of social media. Even if they have removed access from their former partner or spouse, unfriended and blocked them from their account, it is still important not to post about them or the separation.
If a former partner or spouse was somehow able to get their hands on a screenshot or your client posting about them or the separation, depending on how frequently your client is posting and the type of language they are using, there is a risk that this communication could have negative consequences on your client’s family law matter particularly parenting disputes or, in extreme cases, potential criminal consequences.
The same caution should be considered when communicating on any other platform, including email and messages.
It is important for any instances of communication, where a client is speaking about their former spouse or partner, to be limited. This ensures that there can be no evidence used by the former partner or spouse against your client should the matter proceed to Court. As an advisor, it is crucial that you prompt your client to consider how their communication could be construed in Court. It is wise to send a proposed communication, or response, to a lawyer to review first.
Tip 5: Additional Data Security Considerations
Additionally, we recommend advising your client to remove themselves, their partner or changing the passwords of any shared streaming accounts such as:
- Amazon Prime
- Apple TV
- Spotify, etc.
These services often have location enabled that anyone with access to the account can see.
Mobile devices are the same. Phone messages can allow a person’s location to be geotagged, giving a former spouse or partner access to the exact whereabouts of your client. Phones should also be checked for up-to-date antivirus software and in-phone tracking apps or devices that could be used by a former spouse or partner.
Advising your client to reflect on, and subsequently change access to certain devices, products or platforms can assist in securing confidential data, as well as ensure the health and safety of those involved.
The key element in assisting your clients to safely navigate their separation, is advising them to firstly take steps to ensure that their personal data is secure both pre- and post-separation. This is an important first step, just as early legal advice is. As an advisor, you are in a position where you may be the first to have knowledge of a client’s separation, and sometimes even have the opportunity to assist them before they separate. As you well know, early education and insights like these are incredibly valuable, particularly where personal and sensitive data is concerned.
We have provided a PDF checklist that you may wish to pass on to your clients upon notifying you of a separation. Click here to access it and click download.
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Phillips Family Law is an award-winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you or your clients are in the decision-making process, we help people become informed and aware of their options. To discuss your situation confidentially, phone (07) 3007 9898 or secure a time by filling in our confidential form here.
Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information however it does not substitute legal advice or opinion. Information is best used in conjunction with legal advice from an experienced member of our team.