Computers, Hard Drives, and Technology Issues in Texas Divorce
Technology Issues in Texas Divorce: Issues with Computers, Hard Drives, and Online Accounts
Recently the attorneys and staff at the Barrows Firm had a computer crusher recycling company come to the office to destroy a hard drive in a divorce, one of the frequent technology issues in Texas divorce. After the hard drive was destroyed, the company issues a proper certificate as evidence of what was destroyed and a guarantee that no personal information remained on the device. While this is a straightforward situation when done appropriately and correctly, the destruction of computers, hard drives, and technology can be a big problem in a Texas divorce when it is done outside the law.
Texas community property law applies to computers, hard drives, and technology. Unless agreed to otherwise, both parties have an interest and legal right to the technological devices owned during a marriage and the contents therein. There is a proper way to address personal property and privacy concerns about computers, hard drives, cell phones, and other devices. If an individual destroys community property and information on their own, without an agreement with the other party or Court order, the consequences can be serious.
At the outset of a divorce, either the Court’s automatic Standing Orders apply, or the attorneys agree to a mutual restraining order, preventing either party from destroying community property or disturbing assets during the divorce suit. If one party decides to delete everything and destroy hard drives and computers, they could be in contempt of court and face more serious penalties for destroying evidence.
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At the Barrows Firm, Southlake Family Law Attorneys Leslie Barrows and Amanda Roark represent men and women with all kinds of concerns about their technology, devices, and private information stored both on computers and hard drives as well as in the cloud and on various websites. Most situations can be resolved with an agreement negotiated between the husband and wife, but other more contentious issues require a trip to Court. In either case, the Barrows Firm frequently advises and represents clients with technology issues in Texas divorce.
Privacy Concerns in Divorce when Information is Contained on Computers and Hard Drives
In many marriages, husbands and wives usually have personal phones, laptops, and devices and have family computers and other devices used by everyone. When it is time to divide individual property and assets, the technology issues get much more complex than dividing closets and personal items. Remember that the information you shared with your spouse and trusted them to safeguard may now be in the hands of your nemesis if the divorce is contentious. And honestly, if things were better, there probably would not be a divorce in the first place.
What information is contained on the family computer? Do both the parties have saved passwords in website browsers? Are there files on hard drives where private information is stored? If you had to itemize all the technology in your home right now and answer these questions, could you do so without some considerable time and effort?
Especially during the pretrial discovery phase of divorce, it is important to follow the Court’s orders and Texas law that applies to property division. Do not run and destroy your hard drives, computers, and technology before there is an agreement or Court order. Otherwise, you might be violating the law by destroying evidence and affecting the other party’s privacy rights.
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Negotiating an Agreement or Seeking a Court Order Regarding Technology
Situations lead to different courses of action regarding technology devices and digital property rights. If there is a concern about the data and files contained on the computer’s hard drive, the attorneys can negotiate an agreement that addresses concerns and preserves information that may be used as evidence in the divorce trial. For example, the parties can agree that a forensic technology professional will retrieve and produce any relevant data that responds to the scope of the search. Likewise, after evidence has been retrieved, the parties might agree to have hard drives destroyed to prevent any future concerns.
When husbands and wives cannot agree about their issues with computers, devices, and online accounts, their attorney can file a motion to have a hearing in Court to get a Court Order compelling one or both parties to act regarding the technology, data, and privacy issues.
How to Properly Destroy and Dispose of Technology Devices
Computers, hard drives, and technology come up in the news from time to time when things are not handled correctly and within the limits of the law. In a Texas divorce, once the case is filed and the parties are ordered to maintain the status quo, there is going to be a problem if either husband or wife decides they have all the information they want from a laptop and destroy the hard drive on their whim and will.
The proper thing to do is use a reputable computer crushing and recycling company, or a data review and retrieval resource to either destroy or preserve data and information. When talking with your lawyer about computers and data, be open and honest about everything and let the data fall where it may, and let your divorce lawyers sort everything out.
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Maintaining Personal Privacy and Protection with Online Accounts
Anyone getting divorced should create new usernames and passwords on any online accounts, on social media websites, applications, and so forth. Your soon-to-be ex-spouse likely knows passwords, hints, and all kinds of private information others do not know, so consider that. And if there are concerns about hacking or accessing online accounts, it makes sense to write down new usernames and passwords and store that list somewhere safe.
If reading this article in anticipation of filing for divorce, it might be a good idea to start changing personal information if it can be done safely and without disclosing divorce plans. At the very least, while possible, make a list of all accounts and areas where information is stored on various devices and who has access and control of those computer hard drives, and other technology.
When talking to an experienced divorce lawyer before filing for divorce, have a chat about computers, technology, online accounts, and privacy concerns before doing anything that could end up causing more problems than solutions.
Using Technology to Communicate During Divorce in a Controlled Environment
When divorcing, there are new and clean methods to communicate in a controlled environment that leads to better interaction and reduces the risk of problems. For example, instead of texting or emailing, try using the Our Family Wizard (OWL) product designed for healthy co-parenting and communicating information, documents, and more in a divorce. Especially when there are children’s issues, husbands and wives need to communicate from time to time before, during, and after the divorce. The OWL software allows approved users to send messages to one another, upload documents, and share calendars of important dates and events.
What many appreciate about the OWL is that the settings can be adjusted so that the lawyers and the judge can access and see what information is there and what is communicated. This is a very streamlined system, compared to the exchange of text messages and emails, where people going through a divorce might forget their manners.