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Spying on a spouse

by | Oct 29, 2012 | Child Custody, Divorce |

When a marriage deteriorates, some people decide that they should spy on their spouse to either help them decide if they should get  a divorce or to gain an advantage in a divorce. Many people think that proof of adultery will gain them an advantage in a custody battle or a financial battle in a divorce. In Massachusetts and other states, proof of adultery seldom gains any advantage at all. I once heard a Judge state that everybody commits adultery now and nobody cares anymore. While it may not be true that nobody cares, it does appear that Judges in Massachusetts ignore proof of adultery when deciding divorce cases. Regardless of the view of the Court, some parties in a marriage continue to believe that it is important to spy on their spouse.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes some instances of spouses spying on spouses and the technology available. Generally, the technology allows the sound recording of telephone calls and oral statements, video recording of video telephone calls and actions of people, recording of use of computers and cell phones, and gps tracking of cars and cell phones. All of the actions can be considered illegal and possibly even criminal. The Wall Street Journal article describes people who went to jail for spying on a spouse.Massachusetts prohibits the unconsented recording of a person’s voice. G.L. c. 272, § 99. The law covers recordings made from telephone calls or any other wire transmission. Violation of this law is a crime that can be punished by imprisonment. Federal law also punishes the unauthorized recording of a person’s voice or telephone call. 18 U.S.C. § 2511.
Accessing someone’s computer can be a crime under Massachusetts law and Federal law. The Massachusetts law, G.L. c. 266, 120F, has not been interpreted in a divorce setting. However, the intent of the law is to spying on another person’s computer use. The Federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 1030, also makes it a crime to access someone’s computer without authorization. Cell phones are small computers. I think that both state and federal laws can be used to prosecute a spouse who records the usage of another’s cell phone.
Placing a GPS tracker on a spouse’s car may be considered stalking. In Massachusetts, three or more instances of following another may be considered the crime of stalking. G.L. c. 265, 43. Following a spouse by a GPS tracker should be considered stalking as it has in other states.
In addition to potential criminal liability for spying on a spouse, Massachusetts law creates a right of privacy. G.L. c.214, § 1B. While this right is enforced through civil actions and not criminal, it should act as a deterrent to spying on a spouse. If the purpose of spying is to obtain an advantage in a divorce, violation of the right of privacy may cause a Judge to award money to compensate the victim spouse for the unlawful spying actions. In addition, Judges don’t want to reward unlawful behavior and usually prevent the use of any information obtained by unlawful spying.
Usually, spying in a marriage hurts the person engaging in the spying behavior and not the victim who is subject to the surveillance. Divorce lawyers should discourage such behavior and advise clients to avoid the temptations to spy.
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