Divorce Do’s And Don’ts: Snooping
Published on 02 May, 2017 | Laura Guillon
Divorce is, sadly, a fact of life for many modern families.
The most recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that more than 111,000 marriages were brought to a legal close in 2014 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2014).
They were all dealt with according to a piece of legislation known as the Matrimonial Causes Act.
However, even though the Act came into force more than four decades ago, it is still slightly surprising to discover how little people know about what they can and cannot do during the divorce process.
That may be, of course, because it is something that many individuals will only go through once and, when they do, their emotions are naturally in turmoil due to the upset following the collapse of what might have been a lengthy relationship.
There are those, though, who are swayed by a substantial body of urban myths, anecdotes and hearsay on the topic.
For instance, when it comes to gathering the sort of material upon which the divorce settlement can be based, myself and my colleagues have found how many spouses innocently stray into potentially criminal territory.
As I’ve been telling the Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4457438/Divorcing-couples-read-s-post-risk-jail.html), one-fifth of clients have admitted opening their former partner’s mail, accessing social media and e-mail accounts, rifling through business documents stored in the attic or even placing bugging devices in order to assemble information on their ex’s activities or financial status.
Most were simply unaware that such behaviour is not permitted by law. They may well have done the same thing before divorce as part of normal household activities but the end of a marriage changes things considerably.
Under another piece of law (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, to be precise) intercepting a person’s post, voicemail, faxes or electronic communications either without their consent or a warrant providing express permission to do so is a criminal offence.
It is something which has been particularly frowned upon by family courts since one high profile case in 2010, in which a woman’s lawyers were ordered to hand over documents which her brothers had obtained from computers used by her ex-husband while they shared an office (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2283046/Lisa-Tchenguiz-divorce-Tycoon-known-Man-Del-Monte-reaches-15m-settlement.html).
We also act for individuals who have been on the receiving end of intrusion.
One might imagine that they might well be outraged when, in fact, their reaction is rather more muted.
I believe that is, in part, due to the readiness with which very personal information is now shared via the likes of various social media platforms. It takes much more to offend us these days than might have been the case for previous generations.
Even so, despite living in a more open society, the rules of engagement on divorce underline how there are limits to that openness which, if crossed, can bring far more serious consequences than the end of a marriage.