I’ve written a number of times on the value of keeping track of your digital assets for estate planning purposes. I recently read an article, however, that reminded me how important it is to do the same for other purposes – when you are going through a divorce, for example.
The American Bar Association’s Family Law Advocate (Summer of 2014, Vol. 37, No. 1) published a very helpful article called “Get Your Digital House In Order” by Melissa Brown. It reminded us all that in most marriages these days, passwords and digital accounts need attention sooner rather than later. Ms. Brown reminds readers that changing passwords is critical when divorce (or separation) appears to be in your future, so that you can secure assets of all kinds from surprise spending and/or control by your spouse.
In a divorce, the first thing your attorney is going to ask you to do is identify your assets and debts, and your income and expenses. Will you need to protect these assets from your spouse? Think for a minute…..your spouse may be able to intuit what s/he doesn’t actually know. Can s/he guess your passwords or use personal information to change it without your knowledge?
Ms. Brown’s advice is to consider hiring an expert “when family finances are complex.” With or without an expert who can assist you with reviewing your finances, the article reminds readers that there is an unavoidable process of gathering both personal and business financial records that will allow you to defend your budget and combat a proposed budget from your spouse in court.
Whatever you do, don’t over-react! Don’t destroy evidence (called “spoliation”), even if you’re not pleased with how it may appear. You can get in big trouble with the court. And, don’t give in to the urge to spy on or track your spouse without talking to an attorney who can advise you on the consequences for doing so. Lastly, the author’s advice about social media is a point worth making – don’t use it while your divorce is pending, or, at the very least, be careful about what you say.
There’s a great handbook for clients (Finances Before, During, and After Divorce: A Client Manual), offered very inexpensively through your attorney from the ABA, which may alleviate a lot of stress, make things more understandable and a bit easier. Ask your attorney for a copy. But, first, make sure you’ve thought about your digital assets and how you will secure them in a divorce.