Separation is for most people a very difficult time. Quite apart from the emotional aspects, including very often feelings of failure and loss, there are likely to be many practical matters which need to be sorted out. These may include the arrangements for children; possibly dealing with a house sale and move; considering whether one party is going to have to provide financial support, and/or sorting out other financial arrangements in a fair way.
There are other issues, which are often overlooked until the unexpected happens. One example is whether it is necessary to take steps to separate the parties’ digital lives. On separation, it is invariably more appropriate and often essential, that things are rearranged so that each party is in sole control of their own digital lives.
Here are some important considerations about protecting your digital life on separation.
Like many couples, you may well have shared with your former partner access to a number of websites and platforms through the use of a common password. It may be that some of these are sites which you use regularly including, for example, online banking and savings accounts. Others could include access to social media and leisure activity sites, such as Netflix and Facebook etc.
The wise course, as soon as a separation is likely, is to change the user names on such sites and also the passwords. This is particularly important in the case of accounts where a liability might be incurred or one from which money could be removed without agreement. It may well be that this step will involve closing down use of a particular account and creating a new account in your sole name.
Make a list of all the passwords you could possibly have shared and create new ones for each one. It may sound obvious, but make sure that your new passwords are not those that your former partner might be able to crack.
As an extra precaution, access to any gadgets which are yours alone should be restricted by a fresh password which only you know.
Couples often share technology. This could be, for example, a shared tablet, kept perhaps in the kitchen for quick use by each of you for reference purposes or to pay bills or to access bank accounts. That gadget could well contain all the passwords each of you use, a history of all your browsing, or even have images on it you may not want to be seen by a third party.
Before wiping details from a shared gadget, it would be sensible to back up ‘your’ information on a separate device. Once any personal information has been backed up, it is usually best to reinstate factory settings on the former shared gadget.
Follow the same steps with any computers, phones, or other electronic items with the capability of saving data like banking info, your tax returns, instant messages, or anything you don’t want your former partner taking with them or even seeing.
You may have shared a Facebook account or other social media site where you kept mutual friends, photos, or conversations. Perhaps you both made comments on Twitter and jointly posted updates the appropriateness now seems dated. This is the time to close such accounts and, if you wish to do so, create your own private profile. This advice applies even if you are on continuing good terms with your former partner.
A very important rule to follow is to be extremely cautious about making posts on social media after a separation. Sometimes, former partners or others can misconstrue what has been said and this can create real difficulties. Even very high levels of privacy can be breached, deliberately or by misunderstanding.
Make sure all your privacy settings are up to date and consider whether there are any potentially problematic posts you may have made in the past which need to be deleted.
These relatively simple steps will reduce or even remove any potential damage your former partner could do in the future. Such damage could be financial or even reputational i.e. someone making derogatory and/or untrue comments. Thinking about these issue early on will mean that you have one less problem to worry about.
If you or anyone you know, are affected by the issues raised above and would like more information or some preliminary, confidential advice, please contact Pippa Allsop or one of our other experienced experts in our family team.