Part 3: Protect Your Tech
Regardless of where you are in the process, it’s never too late to take steps to protect yourself. When you’re divorcing or in a custody dispute, it can affect the rest of your life.
Each of these suggestions should take about 15 minutes to start. Some may require more time to fully complete. Ready to get started? Let’s dive in…
- Check your iTunes & other shared accounts. Many services have family-style accounts where information can be shared. In a divorce, that may include your ex easily accessing your text or iMessages, online documents, emails, and your location. Checking your settings and making sure to separate out your accounts will help secure information from being accidentally shared. Changing your passwords will also help this and many services will let you forcibly sign out any other locations with ongoing access and require that they have the updated password. If someone should have access, it is easy to update. If they shouldn’t have access, then they either won’t know or won’t (legitimately) be able to complain about the change.
- Privacy concerns? Check your tech. So much of our technology tracks everything that we do. This includes your phone, car, and computers. Conveniently saved passwords, our location when we take a photo or post of social media, “Find My” services for our important electronics, and GPS on our cars. How much you need to worry depends on your circumstances and personal preference. However, most people are not aware of the amount of information that can be accessed by an ex regardless of their intentions. What is the backup account and verification method? (Is it their phone number or email address?) Can your ex reset your password or log on using a shared internet browser or saved password? Do they receive text notifications of when, where, and what Amazon just delivered to your door? You don’t need to be paranoid but do pay attention and take reasonable precautions.
- Create a new email account with a professional name. They are free and you will be creating your new life (whether you wanted to or not). Make sure that you pick a neutral and professional name, preferably based on your name. It is embarrassing to try to explain to a judge or custody evaluator how you are a great parent while your email address is distracting, profane, about money, or otherwise unprofessional. I am preferential to Gmail as you also get access to other Google services such as Google Drive and you can do a “Google” search within your own email. Gmail is also easily set up to check your old email address for new mail and in some cases, you can set it up to still send from your old email address within your new one.
- Backup all your photos and data. Create a backup of your photos and information and save it somewhere that can be retrieved if you lose access to your current phone or computer. Years of memories can be lost with a phone getting dropped or a laptop that dies. With divorce, especially while you’re initially separating or continuing to live together, you are at a higher risk of “less-than-accidental” damage or loss to your information and valuables. I prefer online storage with high privacy protections as external hard drives can be lost, damaged, or stop working. External “solid state drives” (SSD) are the most durable options for fast transfers, large amounts of data, or an additional backup of your information. Free online photo storage options such as Shutterfly typically reduce your photos’ size and quality – but it’s still better than losing them completely!
- If you currently live together, discretely duplicate or secure your irreplaceable items and records. Practicing “preventative medicine” is priceless in this area! While it will hopefully never happen to you, if you can scan copies of the photos you treasure, necessary documents such as passports, IDs, insurance documents, marriage licenses, and birth certificates – you will retain control of the information even if they “somehow” disappear, you are unexpectedly locked out of your residence, or you realize later that you needed something. If you have “invaluable” valuables – especially sentimental items such as scrapbooks, inherited jewelry, or your favorite personal items – try to find a place outside of your ex’s access where you can temporarily and securely relocate them. Trying to get back possession of something that is sentimental can be extremely difficult or impossible.
Remember – every situation is different! Before starting, consider what is safe for your specific situation, especially if you currently reside together, there is domestic violence, or you share accounts and changes will notify or impact your spouse. The idea is to inform and protect yourself, not to harm the other person.