Divorce and the Technology Trap 

Published on 14 February, 2018 | Andrew Newbury

In the course of the last four decades, households around the world have benefited from significant and very rapid developments in technology.

Not too long ago, the kind of audio and video facilities now provided by affordable, pocket-sized instruments came courtesy of items which were often the size of a suitcase and sometimes prohibitively expensive.

The cumbersome nature of such consumer appliances was not just limited to their bulk but their apparently complex nature. For many families, the joke that youngsters were able to manage the VHS or CD player more easily than their elders had more than a grain of truth.

That has continued to be the case in the age of the mobile. Both the ‘phones themselves and the smartphone apps which they support have been adopted by individuals in their teens and twenties far quicker than more mature members of society.

One survey published last year estimated that 96 per cent of those aged between 16 and 24 owned a mobile (https://www.statista.com/statistics/271851/smartphone-owners-in-the-united-kingdom-uk-by-age/).

However, the older generations are beginning to catch up. In fact, the same report detailed how although the youngest age group had seen ownership increase by 45 per cent since 2012, among those aged between 35-54 and 55-64 it had more than doubled.

Unsurprisingly, the middle-aged population is also using smartphones for more than making calls or sending e-mails.

New research has shown that the number of men and women aged between 45 and 54 in the United States who use one app called Snapchat increased by 34 per cent during 2017 alone.

It allows users to send each other photographs or short clips of video which are automatically deleted once they’ve been viewed by the intended recipient.

That privacy, of course, is of value to those who might be trying to conceal possibly illicit or improper communications, such as individuals looking to cheat on their partners.

As I’ve been telling Katie Morley of the Daily Telegraph, Snapchat is so relatively new a development that it hasn’t yet begun to feature in divorces which Hall Brown Family Law deals with (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/13/snapchat-becoming-playground-middle-aged-affairs-experts-say/). Even so, I believe it may only be a matter of time before that happens.

After all, the app which was arguably Snapchat’s predecessor as a popular and immediate communications tool, WhatsApp, has made an appearance in a number of cases.

It is part of what I have described as a “technology cascade”. By that, I mean that technologies are first adopted by younger age groups and gradually filter through to older individuals.

Whilst there are people using WhatsApp and possibly Snapchat to conduct affairs, partners are alive to that potential, as my colleague Laura Guillon identified in an article in the Daily Mail last year on ‘digital snooping’ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4457438/Divorcing-couples-read-s-post-risk-jail.html).

Apart from apps, we have also seen people using second or ‘burner’ ‘phones in order to hide their extra-marital activity from spouses.

Some may no doubt succeed. Nevertheless, the very fact that we are handling cases in which allegations of such behaviour are made suggests that not everyone avoids being caught out.

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