In space, no one can hear you access your partner’s bank account

Family Law|Separation|August 27th 2019

As I have mentioned here previously, space is one of my non-law interests. As part of that interest, I follow a number of astronauts on Twitter. Reading about what out-of-this-world things they are getting up to makes a nice change from reading about what all the family lawyers I follow are doing.

But getting away from family law is not as easy as that.

I was happily perusing my Twitter timeline the other day when I came across a tweet by American astronaut Anne McClain, who recently returned from a six-month mission to the International Space Station. Unfortunately, if I expected to see something space-related, I was disappointed. The tweet related to a claim that whilst aboard the space station she had accessed the bank account of her estranged wife. The claim was not that she had taken any money from the account, just that she had accessed the account when she was not authorised to do so. Ms McClain reportedly admits accessing the account, but says that she had her wife’s permission to do so, and that “she was merely shepherding the couple’s still-intertwined finances.” Notwithstanding this, the matter has led to some lurid headlines suggesting that this may be the first crime committed in space.

The background to the case is that Ms McClain and her wife were married in 2014. Her wife has a son, who was born about a year before they met, but who it seems Ms McClain has treated as her own. Unfortunately, the marriage broke down, and divorce proceedings were commenced last year. Since then, the couple have been in dispute, largely about arrangements for the child.

The matter of the bank account access is still under investigation, so I don’t want to say any more about it, save for one thing. You may be wondering how Ms McClain’s wife found out that her account had been accessed. The explanation may be of interest to anyone tempted to access their partner’s account.

Apparently, her wife was surprised that Ms McClain seemed to know things about her spending. She therefore asked her bank for details of the locations of computers that had recently accessed her bank account using her login credentials. The bank informed her that one was a computer network registered to NASA. In space, no one can hear you access your partner’s bank account, but your partner can still find out about it.

Now, it is obviously the case that one partner will often know the login details for the other partner’s bank account. It may even be that during the course of the relationship the partner with the account will be happy for the other partner to access it. When the relationship breaks down, however, that will change.

The moral of the story is twofold.

Firstly, and obviously, if your relationship breaks down and you believe that your former partner knows the login details for your bank account, then you should change those details. It may even be prudent to change the details if you have not given them to your partner, just in case they know them anyway.

Secondly, if you know your former partner’s bank login details it may be very tempting to use them, even if only to obtain information regarding their finances. The simple advice is: don’t. As indicated above, you can be found out, and as suggested by those headlines, you may be committing a criminal offence. And in any event, you will not be entitled to use any information that you recovered from the account in any subsequent court proceedings.

I suppose the other thing to take from this story is that family law is ubiquitous. And that should really come as no surprise. No matter what we do and no matter where we go, we take our families with us, and family law follows along, struggling to make sense of it all.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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