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Opening a Spouse’s Mail or Email during Divorce – Is this a Good Idea?


The circumstances leading up to a divorce are often long-festering and painful issues that come to a head after years of build-up. Once the decision to divorce is made and communicated, lingering resentment, possibly withheld to keep the peace, is likely to come out as each spouse adjusts to the new reality. Feelings of betrayal and suspicions of reprehensible behavior can push a spouse to look for information that they hope will damage the other spouse’s position in the divorce case. One of the first places people generally go to find private information is a person’s mail or email. Texts and messages sent through social media can also be sources of personal information one spouse is trying to keep from the other. In the heat of the moment, gathering this information together may feel justified in light of past history, but taking this type of invasive action may not lead to the results one was expecting. A discussion of the potential consequences of going through a spouse’s mail (electronic or otherwise) without their permission or knowledge on a pending divorce case, as well as potential repercussions for the snooping spouse, will follow below.

Criminal and Civil Liability

Marriage grants both spouses a number of legal benefits, including the right to keep communications with one another private during a lawsuit or other legal action. This protection may lead some spouses to assume they have the right to access communications directed to the other spouse without his/her knowledge or consent, specifically those received through email and postal mail. However, this assumption is likely to be incorrect, and brings the potential for serious consequences. Federal and state laws protect the recipient’s privacy over these types of communication, and criminal charges are possible depending upon how the information was intercepted and stored. If a spouse goes so far as to change the other spouse’s email password, this action could be considered hacking, which is a felony offense and could result in incarceration. Additionally, this unauthorized access could open a person to a civil lawsuit by the former spouse for invasion of privacy.

Use of Information in the Divorce Case

Since the underlying purpose of obtaining information from these sources is to use it against the other party in the divorce for a better settlement, whether a court would consider it is a crucial issue. While the ultimate answer is complicated, courts generally will not allow evidence obtained illegally to be admitted into the case. Note that email, texts and other online activity is usually obtainable through the discovery process. Further and perhaps more importantly, when courts discover proposed evidence was acquired through subterfuge, it can cast a negative light on that party and potentially impact the judge’s decision about property division (an issue specifically driven by what arrangement would produce a just and fair result), alimony and child custody.

Effect on the Tone of the Divorce Generally

Emotions related to fear and resentment typically drive a spouse to take the type of action described above, and often is most pressing in the first days and weeks following the decision to divorce because so many questions and concerns are an unknown. However, the drawback to being led by these motivations is the likelihood of creating a toxic relationship with the other spouse. This kind of relationship will mean all aspects of the divorce will most likely be highly contested, and trying to effectively co-parent afterward would be extremely difficult. Divorces take months, and even years to complete, so looking at the long-term and big picture ramifications of this event should reveal that trying to keep the process as amicable and above-the-board as possible, while still protecting one’s interests, usually results in a better outcome, particularly if children are in the picture.

Contact an Orlando Divorce Lawyer

Divorce is a scary and overwhelming process, but working with an experienced and compassionate divorce attorney can quell your fears by explaining what happens and what to expect going forward. The Orlando law firm Donna Hung Law Group offers clients a number of different options to finalize their divorce, from completely non-adversarial to litigation, so your needs and those of your family are correctly addressed. Contact us at (407) 999-0099 to schedule a confidential consultation.