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Computers, mobiles and the divorce detectives

Technology has moved on – but snooping has reached epidemic proportions.

The results of a study, carried out by Oxford University, are printed in today’s Daily Telegraph. Its authors claim that nearly a quarter of all married couples admit to snooping on one another’s emails and text messages.

Reading the article made me smile. How many times have my clients told me about a spouse, with a mobile phone clamped to his or her hand, behaving oddly? The answer is far too many to remember! So far as marital breakdown is concerned, such activities have become epidemic.

One client of mine became suspicious after her husband began sleeping with his mobile phone under his pillow. One night, when she could stand it no longer, she manoeuvred it from beneath his sleeping head, crept downstairs, read the text messages from his lover – and woke him demanding a divorce.

Other clients have told me how their spouses’ phones are now protected by permanent passwords. However, women are nothing if not inventive. Some can surreptitiously bypass the locking devices on mobiles, because they know that their spouses will use trusted passwords that are difficult to forget. For some reason, men often display a casual attitude to the deletion of text messages. In these cases, the clients have correctly guessed the passwords and accessed the phones.

One client bugged her husband’s car, correctly guessing that he would only speak to his lover once he had left the house. This proved to be the case. He also dialled his best friend – and the two of them bragged about their “bits on the side”. This little episode is likely to cost my client’s husband in the region of £10 million.

I have a number of well known sportsmen who are my clients. Without exception they are gorgeously hunky and rippling with muscles – especially the rugby players and the racing drivers! Sometimes we joke that our office becomes a little like the Diet Coke ad, with many of the women in the office – some of them prim and proper solicitors with their hair up, glasses on and dressed in sombre black – lining up to walk past the window in my office on their way to a photocopier!

However, brawn doesn’t always equal brains. One or two of my superstar clients have been caught out after they sent flirty text messages arranging illicit liaisons to their wives, instead of the intended recipients. They found themselves in the divorce courts.

Of course, it is illegal to access other people’s phones without consent. It is illegal to obtain an itemised bill for another person’s phone. Secret phone bugging is illegal; so is computer hacking. These actions can land someone with criminal charges. Whenever I am told about such behaviour, I always advise the client not to do it – or, if it has been done, to stop it immediately.

Human nature being what it is, they don’t always stop. Somebody who is going through marital breakdown, who feels a need to know if their spouse is having an affair, often does not care about the possible consequences. Many of those in this situation do not realise that in the majority of circumstances, the law does not require people to go to such lengths.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Computers, mobiles and the divorce detectives — says:

    […] Computers, mobiles and the divorce detectives: “ […]

  2. Dirty Divorce Tricks – Part 1 says:

    […] wait until he was in the car to discuss his affair with friends, or with the Other Woman herself. The wife placed a recorder under the car seat, and recorded all his telephone calls. Although it gave her satisfaction, I question the need in law. It isn’t necessary for a […]

  3. James Bond beware! says:

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  4. Drew says:

    Dear Marilyn,

    Many thanks for such clear and concise articles – they are extremely useful and reassuring.

    In your article “Computers, Mobiles and the Divorce Detectives”, you state that computer hacking is illegal. Can you please point me to the specific legislation where it states that it is illegal to hack into someone’s personal email account without their permission (and then use the evidence openly against that person in Court)? Is it part of the Human Rights Act or is there a specific UK law against this? My understanding is that emails are the modern version of letters. I know that there is specific legislation which makes it illegal to open someone else’s mail – does this also apply to emails?


  5. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Hi Drew
    You should read the case of Lv L (2007) EWHC 140 and the judgment of Mr Justice Tuggendaht who reviews the law in this area.
    Please note the particular reference to the Data Protection Act 1998, the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the ECHR.

  6. LM says:

    My daughters partners ex is reading their personal texts through a shared device ” an iPad ” with his apple I’d on it , and has photo shot some texts and sent these to his family also her solicitor has used some of these texts against them in a letter concerning his kids we are told thi is all legal because of the share device but at no time was permission given , do they have recourse against this and is it legal no ona seems to know about the legality of using others texts without permition.

  7. Ame says:

    any activity that u are doing behind of your partner is not good morally. we need to awareness about this.

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