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Before property division, electronic data may be investigated

When divorces occur in the public eye, lurid details often emerge. Many of these details are the result of investigators mining the computers of their clients' adversaries. While the particulars of most divorces in Pennsylvania are not published and discussed in the media, electronic data may still be used as part of the investigation to determine property division and other issues.

Attorneys often scrutinize the data of an opponent's client to find evidence that can be used as weapons during custody or financial battles. People who post pictures boasting of extra-marital relationships, unchecked spending or illicit behavior may expect those posts to return to them during a divorce or custody hearing. People have only to look to the news reports of former congressman Anthony Weiner whose laptop data revealed information that led to disgrace and divorce.

Since more attorneys are investigating electronic data during divorces, they understand what their clients can do to avoid scandal. Some divorce lawyers advise their clients to create new email accounts and tighten the privacy settings on their social media. They also suggest changing answers to security questions and unsyncing any devices that their spouses may be able to access. However, the courts may interpret the deletion of any accounts, photos or social media communication as destruction of evidence, so many attorneys discourage this.

People in Pennsylvania who are going through contentious divorces are advised to keep their use of social media to a minimum. It is likely that one's computer history will be consulted when it comes time for property division. Following the counsel of one's lawyer may be the best way to avoid embarrassing or damaging consequences during divorce proceedings.

Source: The New York Times, "In a Divorce, Who Gets Custody of Electronic Data? The Lawyers", Jonah Engel Bromwich & Daniel Victor, Oct. 31, 2016

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