Gathering evidence to support your divorce, child custody, or other family law case can be a confusing or complicated proposition. With the advent of incredible technological advances such as smart phones, GPS tracking, and countless types of computer monitoring software, the possibilities for collecting this type of information seems endless. Understanding the legalities of different types of monitoring and investigation is vital before embarking on this type of fact-finding to make sure that your actions will result in admissible evidence and that your actions are legal.
Electronic communication and record keeping are universal. Computers and smart phones are constantly used to communicate with other people and to keep track of finances, bills, and appointments. This would seem like a treasure trove of information for any person involved in a family dispute. Spyware is software installed on a computer that records the actions taken on that computer. As such, spyware is a tempting way to try to gather the evidence sent on personal computers or smart devices. Spyware operates by taking “snapshots” of the desktop while the computer is being used, sending the snapshots to a pre-determined email address. What this means is that one spouse can see everything the other spouse is doing on the computer, including social media, email, or banking.
Washington law specifically prohibits the secret recording of communication by any method unless all parties to the communication specifically consent. This means that spyware is not a legal method of collecting information. Similarly, recording conversations with your spouse or former partner without informing him or her that the conversation is being recorded is likewise not permitted. Not only will any evidence gathered this way be inadmissible in your divorce or custody trial, you could end up with criminal or civil liability for violating the statute.
GPS tracking is a gray area. Some private investigators may consent to placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle. This will allow the investigator or a spouse to see in real-time where the vehicle is going. This information could provide clues to infidelity, for example. The ambiguity relates to who owns the car. If the car is titled in your name or jointly with the other spouse, then placing the tracker is probably permitted. However, if the car is titled solely in the other person’s name, then the tracking device is probably not authorized.
If you have questions about the process of gathering evidence for your divorce or custody matter, let us answer them for you. We have extensive experience with building effective cases for our clients. Contact us today at (253) 272-9459 for an appointment to talk about your case.