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Divorce Practice Now a Surveillance War

Posted Sep 18, 2007 6:06 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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High-tech surveillance tactics are now commonplace in divorce cases, changing the nature of matrimonial law practice.

Soon-to-be-divorced spouses routinely steal each other's BlackBerries and install snooping software on each other's computers. This not only enables them to read each other's e-mail but to monitor, in 15-second increments, what a perhaps-erring marital partner is doing on the Internet, reports the New York Times. What they can't find out, their divorce lawyers perhaps can by hiring even more technologically sophisticated private detectives.

"In just about every case now, to some extent, there is some electronic evidence,” says Gaetano Ferro, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “It has completely changed our field.”

Divorce attorneys must now be expert in privacy and wiretapping laws and procedure, which vary from state to state—and involve different rules for computers and e-mail accounts and phone calls—to ensure that such spousal surveillance wars are conducted legally, the Times article notes. However, there is clear, consistent legal protection only for one thing—a client's communications with his or her lawyer, because attorney-client privilege applies.

Nonetheless, "I do not like to put things on e-mail,” says David Levy, a Chicago matrimonial lawyer. “There’s no way it’s private. Nothing is fully protected once you hit the send button.”

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