Implications of the online world on separation and divorce

An important consideration that may easily be missed when dealing with a separation is the need for parties to separate their online lives and to cut digital ties with their former partner.

18 October 2021

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When couples separate, attention naturally turns to dividing any assets and finances that may have become intertwined during the course of the relationship, and to making provisions for any children. An important consideration that may easily be missed when dealing with a separation, however, is the need for parties to separate their online lives and to cut digital ties with their former partner.

An individual’s digital presence and online activity can create an ongoing link to an ex that may be undesirable at best and at worst, harmful to their privacy and safety. The implications can run from “Revenge Hacking” – whereby an individual accesses the social media platforms and emails of their former partner– to the monitoring of a former partner’s movement, spending and social life via access to both personal or linked accounts and devices. If an individual has access to an account to which their ex partner’s debit or credit card is linked, they could also run up spending.

Some online accounts may also amount to digital assets, such as streaming memberships or paid for cloud storage, and separating couples might need to have a discussion about who will be keeping the account after the separation.

Even in the most amicable of separations, it is advisable to ensure that steps are taken to secure your online accounts, assets and personal information.

Below are some points to consider and steps to take:

Joint accounts

If you have any joint accounts – such as a family email account or a shared Netflix log-in – you and your ex should decide who will be keeping the account, or whether it should be shut down. If one person is keeping the account, they should make sure that they change the password and that their partner’s details are removed from the account entirely. If the service in question allows multiple accounts to be registered, the person retaining the account will want to make sure that they are registered as the sole account administrator to make sure they have full control.

In some households, multiple email accounts for a couple and their children may be linked to a central, family email where each individual can send and receive messages. If one party is retaining this account, they should ensure that all other linked addresses are deregistered to avoid a situation whereby private information and photographs being sent may unintentionally be forwarded on or made accessible to an ex or any children linked to the account.

Shared devices

Some couples might have a “family iPad” or shared computer. If you have logged in to any personal accounts on a shared device, your usernames and passwords may have been electronically stored. Before deciding who gets to keep the device, it should be wiped and restored to its factory settings.

Linked devices

It is possible to link devices in a home network. An example of this would be an Alexa or other home assistant, which is linked to both parties’ personal phones. On separation, parties should ensure that the individual not keeping the device deactivates their account and that they can no longer access this previously shared device.

Passwords

It might take a bit of time but by far the best thing you can do to protect your online information on separation is to change the passwords for all of your personal accounts and any joint accounts that you are taking over. It is advisable to use a random password generator to ensure that your passwords are not capable of being guessed. Where possible, set up 2-factor authentication so that a separate access code is also sent to your email or phone when you enter your password. That way, if someone successfully tries to guess your password, you will be alerted that an unauthorised log-in attempt has been made. It can be hard to keep track of passwords, but Password Manager Apps can be installed that keep a secure record of your different log-in details.

Spyware

If your partner had access to your personal devices during the relationship and you are concerned that they may have installed monitoring software such as keystroke recognition or GPS tracking, consider a factory reset and/or take the device to an IT specialist.

The digital world has vastly altered the way that we live our lives, and the separation process has not escaped the impact of these changes. Assets of a relationship now go beyond monetary resources and physical objects, and privacy and personal safety is no longer a matter of being physically separated from a former partner. This means that it is more important than ever to have conversations about digital assets and online privacy when separating from your partner, or considering a separation.

If you have separated from your partner, or are considering separation, and would like to speak to someone, please do not hesitate to contact Balfour+Manson’s Family Law team.

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Solicitor

Emily Deans