When Technology Comes Back to Bite

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By Jacquelyn Curtis

You don’t need to look further than last year’s Ashley Madison hack to see how easily technology can catch up to you.  When hackers stole company data from the online dating company (best summed up by its tagline – “Life is Short: Have an Affair”), it reminded me of some other scenarios where technology comes back to bite.

In divorce, property or proceedings relating to children’s custody, family lawyers commonly see parties tripped up by technology. Text messages, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, online dating profiles, Skype videos and voice recordings frequently end up in evidence before the Court. They are relied upon to corroborate one party’s evidence and sometimes just to damage your credibility.

Often those communications which turn up in evidence have been sent in the throes of conflict before or after separation, have been removed from their context and do not portray you at your best. Think back to the last text message tiff or email spat you had with your spouse -you get the picture. Things said or typed in the heat of the moment are now captured and preserved by the wonders of modern technology.

Even if you are not engaged in litigation, the instantaneous nature of modern communication platforms means that we can convey our thoughts and emotions in “real time”. This is a wonderful advance in many scenarios, but in an acrimonious divorce or relationship breakdown, it may not be helpful to tell your spouse exactly what you think of them when emotions are running high. Especially if you are wanting your divorce resolved as quickly, cheaply and painlessly as possible.

As risk-adverse lawyers, we advise our clients about how to protect themselves from the technological backlash. One of our lawyers regularly advises clients to “put your phone in the fridge for an hour, to let it cool down” after an offensive text message is received. This gives you a chance to cool down too, discuss with your lawyer and decide whether a response is necessary. Another handy tip is the “newspaper test”. If you would not want the text message or email you just typed to end up on the front page of the newspaper, then don’t send it.

The wonders of technology should make life easier. Be conscious of such ease when posting or communicating anything that could be used against you in a legal capacity. If you would like some advice about a situation or require dispute resolution services, please contact us on 02 6212 7600.