Los Angeles Divorce Attorney
Child Custody and Divorce Lawyer in Los Angeles


USES AND ABUSES OF THE INTERNET
IN DIVORCE


As divorce lawyers more and more we have to counsel our clients about the uses and abuses of the
Internet. While the Internet has opened up many exciting possibilities such as “virtual visitation” it also
poses many dangers for the unwary.

1.     Long Distance Web Cam Parenting

Web cam technology over the Internet using software such as Skype or IChat allows parents who re-
locate or relatives such as grandparents who live far away from their grandchildren to communicate on
a more immediate and personal level. Some courts are even mandating web cam visitation in their
orders. States such as Utah, Wisconsin and Missouri have made virtual visitation part of state law.  
Other States such as California and Ohio are considering the option. There is a potential downside
because virtual visitation is not a substitute for real personal contact. Also, Sherry Turkle, a
psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, conducted interviews with older
grandchildren who video chat with grandparents who said that they they visit them less because they
have already “seen” them.

2.        Finding Evidence in a Divorce Case

Searching public social networking sites such as Facebook or Myspace or dating sites are a free and
legal way of finding evidence. Anyone involved in a divorce case should be extremely careful what they
publish on a public site. How do you tell the Judge that you income is $30,000 when you claim on your
dating profile that you make $200,000 per year? How do you explain to the Judge the picture of you
posted by someone on Facebook of you at a party in a drunken stupor when you were said you were at
home doing homework with the kids? An extreme example would be the reported case of Joshua Lipton
who according to published reports was sentenced to two years in prison when the Judge in his drunk
driving case saw a picture of him posted on Facebook at a Halloween party wearing a "prisoner"
costume with "jail bird" written on his orange jumpsuit.

3.        Wiretapping

There is a clear distinction between legally obtaining evidence from public posts on social networking
sites and illegally wiretapping your spouse by recording private telephone conversations or by installing
spyware on your spouse’s computer. The latter is illegal. Most likely the evidence will not be admissible
in Court and may result in civil and criminal sanctions. In one reported divorce case in New Jersey a wife
was granted $7,500 when her husband installed spyware on her computer to track her emails. Such
wiretapping may be subject to State and Federal criminal sanctions. For example, in California, the
Family Code provides that interspousal wiretapping via use of electronic devices such as tape
recorders is illegal and its fruits inadmissible by statute. If you want to secretly record a telephone
conversation you must first obtain a court order. Our firm can help you apply for an ex parte order to
record your spouses if they are threatening you over the telephone. In many custody cases, Judges will
make an order that both spouses can record each other’s telephone conversation if there are
allegations of threats or harassment.

4.        Communicating in High Conflict Cases

In high conflict cases, the Court may order the parties to communicate by email as a way of lowering
tension and documenting communications. Some companies such as OurFamilyWizard have developed
software specifically designed for divorcing families so they can keep track of their communications,
share journals and calendars and post the times and dates of events such as teacher parent
conferences and school plays. However, the Internet is not the place to vent your anger and frustration
at your ex. If you make threats or use obscene or derogatory language in an email or posting, you will
probably find that the other side will use it as evidence against you. If you post something that is open
to the public the consequences can be even more serious. In Colorado, the press reports that a man
was charged with criminal libel for allegedly posting on craigslist accusations that his former lover traded
sex for legal services from her attorney.

5.        The Internet may facilitate Divorce

It seems that the Internet has replaced the Bar as the place where an affair starts. Cyberspace
relationships often lead to marital strife and divorce even if the cyber relationship is never physically
consummated. One of the most bizarre stories of cyberspace romance comes from the United Kingdom
where a women filed for divorce when she found out that her husband’s alter ego “Dave Barmy” was
having sex with a call girl in the game Second Life. In real life in his defense the husband claimed that
he was forced to look for affection elsewhere due to his real wife’s addiction to the game World of
Warcraft.

6.         The Internet and Children

Children nowadays more and more live in cybespace: they “IM” and “Twit” their friends, they play
games, research school papers and network on social network sites such as Facebook, MySpace etc.
Surfing the Internet opens many doors, not all of them good. It can put your children at risk as well from
sexual predators or cyber bullies. A recent survey found that one in three children (ages 10 to 17) had
been exposed to unwanted sexual material online. In 2009 a federal grand jury in Los Angeles
convicted a Missouri woman Thursday for her alleged role in a MySpace hoax on a teen neighbor who
committed suicide after being spurned by the "boy" in a fake profile she created. There are now
attempts to make cyber bullying a federal crime.

The State Bar of California gives the following advice to minimize the chances of an online exploiter
victimizing your child:

•        Communicate and talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential online danger.
•        Spend time with your children online.
•        Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child’s bedroom.
•        Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While
electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of
interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders.
•        Always maintain access to your child’s online account and randomly check his or her e-mail.
•        Teach your child the responsible use of online resources.
•        Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child’s school, the public library and at the
homes of your child’s friends.
•        Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual exploitation, that he
or she is not at fault and is the victim.

If you have concerns about sexual solicitation or cyber bullying contact the police and you can also
contact the 24-hour CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678 or at
www.cybertipline.com. Bylaw, Internet Service
Providers (ISPs) must report any child sexual exploitation or child pornography to the federally
mandated tipline.





Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney at Law Offices of Warren R. Shiell to discuss your
custody issues.
Please call to make an appointment at 310.247.9913.


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