Letter No. 4 -- Fearing Death

On goes my continuing experiment of applying ancient wisdom to the present day experience of people facing divorce in Minnesota.

The wisdom comes from Seneca (an old Roman dude) who wrote a series of letters to his friend, Lucilius. The letters were about the meaning of life. Whether Seneca actually sent the letters, or just compiled them as a book, doesn't matter to me because I've found his advice as sound today as it was in 65 A.D.

All the letters can be downloaded (for free) courtesy of Tim Ferriss. Click (here) for his website. Lots of other amazing stuff is there too. I highly recommend his book, Tools of Titans, which is worth the cost.

Today's letter is No. 4. It's titled On the Terrors of Death.

At first blush, the title seems light years away from sensible divorce advice. Everyone agrees that divorce is bad. But it's not like death, right?

Or is it? Do people worry about divorce in the same way they worry about death?

Seneca explains that we shouldn't fear death because:

"No evil is great which is the last evil of all. Death arrives; it would be a thing to dread, if it could remain with you. But death must either not come at all, or else must come and pass away."

He reminds us that from the instant our life begins, we start the march towards its end. Resistance is futile. Rich or poor. Old or young. Happy or sad. We all go the same.

And yet, instead of living boldly, we spend our time alternating between complaining about life's inequities and fearing its end. "Unwilling to live." Not prepared to die.

What is a person to do?

The solution Seneca offers is to "make life as a whole agreeable to yourself by banishing all worry about it." He tells Lucilius that most anguish is caused by "superfluous things." Those things we don't really need, which consume our time and desire.

He says, "That which is enough is ready to our hands."

How does this apply to a divorce in 2018?

For many people, the self-talk during a divorce mirrors what happens with death. They are not content or happy or living boldly in their marriage. Instead, they alternate between complaining about their spouse and fearing the marriage's end.

Like death, divorce is inevitable if one spouse demands it.

Why not instead make life "agreeable" to you? "Banish all worry" about the divorce. It "must either not come at all, or else must come and pass away."

In any case, you are strong enough to survive it. You have all you need already in your hands.

Our world is one of abundance, if you choose to see it that way.

My Experience.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that living Seneca's advice isn't easy. I get depressed too. Worried. Sometimes, I even believe I'm destined for the opposite of greatness.

But I've found a way out of that tunnel. A way to stop worrying so much about what is going to happen to me and focus instead on the present moment.

How do I do it?

I'll tell you, but you're going to laugh. You'll say, "It's stupid." Tease me about being an idiot.

But it isn't stupid. And it does work.

First, I decide not to feel that way anymore, then I fake it until I make it. I repeat an affirmation 15 times in front of the mirror.

What do I say?

The old Stuart Smalley routine works best: "I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!" 

No joke.

When I'm done, I feel better. You won't be cured after the first day. But after 60 days, you will notice a difference.

Or at least not be afraid of looking like an idiot anymore.

Stay strong,




Top 5 Divorce Mistakes

Ready for a hard truth? Divorce sucks. Full stop. That's all you need to know.

Still there? Okay . . . let me try again.

You will survive. You will grow stronger. The sun will rise.

Feel better? I didn't think so. That's why I didn't say it the first time.

The truth is that platitudes, gratitudes, and saditudes (is that a word?) won't make things better. Time is the only thing that heals. And maybe your faith.

While I can't improve things, there are steps you can take to stop them from getting worse. Here are my Top 5 Divorce Mistakes.

Mistake #1: Not Identifying Goals.

Why doesn't anyone think about their future? No, I don't mean passively "worrying" about it. That's the new national pastime. I mean critically thinking about it. Put pen to paper. Outline your goals.

Recently, I heard a podcast where a young woman said she had plotted her life to age 53. No joke. Care to wager if this woman is already successful? Remember, I said I heard her on a podcast.

Okay, since you asked, I'll tell you what you should do. Create a Divorce Plan. And no, I can't do it for you. Not many people could handle living like me. I require too much luxury.

"But shouldn't my lawyer do that?" you say. Maybe. It's not a risk I would take.

Lawyers are like expensive trail guides – We know many different routes to many different places, but unless you tell us where you want to go, we might not take you there.

Identifying goals means prioritizing outcomes. What do you really need from this divorce? You can’t have everything. What are you willing to give up to get it? Be realistic. Don’t waste time or energy asking for everything.

Mistake #2: Hiring the Wrong Kind of Lawyer.

Oh boy, this is a biggie. Maybe the most expense mistake a person can make.

Law is an art not a science. Let me say that again for you skimmers out there. There is nothing about the law that remotely resembles a math problem.

Of course, there are rules and laws and procedures. Yes, most of the time the professionals do follow these guideposts. But the system was built with tremendous discretion to do "justice." This means that a judge or evaluator (or even sometimes a lawyer) has the ability to do what he/she thinks is right in a particular case.

The result is that two lawyers could sit down with identical facts and paint radically different pictures.

So when you're hiring a lawyer, make sure to chose one who has the skills, experience, temperament, loyalty, attention to detail, or other characteristic that you value. Do not assume that all lawyers in the field are the same.

Finally, don't accept being treated badly. Rudeness is not evidence of legal skill.

Mistake #3: Believing You Are Defenseless.

This idea makes me crazy. No one is defenseless. You may not like your options, but in the USA, you have lots of them.

The best advice I've ever read on this topic comes from Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL commander. Here's what he said to Tim Ferriss in the book Tools of Titans:

"If you want to be tougher mentally, it is simple: Be tougher. Don't meditate on it."

What he meant was that being "tough" is a decision. One that you make a million times a day. If you want to feel more empowered, act more empowered. Start with your next decision. It's up to you.

Since I've read Mr. Willink's advice, I've used it in my own life. It's been transformative. No one is defenseless unless they choose to be.

Mistake #4:  Looking Bad.

No, I don't mean looking ugly - although that's never helped anyone I know.

I'm talking about acting like a lunatic in a way that gets paraded before the judge on some random Tuesday afternoon.

Don't claim you've never acted that way because we all do. It's only by God's grace that there isn't a highlight reel of my dumbest escapades.

The point is that judges want people to act reasonably. For good reason. Try to be reasonable, even though dealing with your spouse might make your skin crawl.

Divorce court is a lot more like Judge Judy than anyone wants to admit. You can only make one first impression. And if a judge hears that a person is dropping insurance, changing the locks on the house, cleaning out the bank accounts, or using the children as pawns, it's hard to recover from it.

Better to just steer clear. Assume your life is an open book. Don't look bad.

Mistake #5: Not Putting the Kids First.

Children are not miniature adults. They have different cognitive and emotional needs. Until they hit their mid-teenage years, most kids don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the concept of divorce.

Kids understand physical separation.

If possible, work with your spouse to tell the kids (in a neutral, nonjudgmental way) what is happening before someone moves out of the house. Last I heard, one-quarter (25%) of all children receive no explanation for why a parent suddenly disappears.

And of course, it's not a good idea to have the kids help you move out.

Stay strong,


Letter No. 3 -- True Friends

This post continues my attempt to apply ancient wisdom to the present day experience of people going through a divorce in Minnesota.

The wisdom comes from Seneca (an old Roman dude) who wrote a series of letters to his friend, Lucilius, about the meaning of life. Whether the letters were actually sent, or just compiled as a book, doesn't matter to me because I've found his advice as sound today as when he wrote it circa 65 A.D.

All the letters can be downloaded (for free) courtesy of Tim Ferriss. Click (here) for his website. He's got a bunch of other amazing stuff too.

Today's Letter is No. 3. It's titled On True and False Friendship.

In it, Seneca writes Lucilius saying that he's received Lucilius's letter. The one brought by a "friend." Seneca says he's confused by how Lucilius uses the word because in the same letter Lucilius also urges him not to share any private details with the man.

Seneca asks Lucilius how someone can simultaneously be both a "friend" and someone you don't trust "as you trust yourself."

Seneca wonders if Lucilius has the idea of friendship backwards. Instead of calling a person a friend first and then later judging them unworthy, the better way is to judge a person worthy first, then to share "all your heart and soul" with them.

Sharing at least all your worries and reflections. "Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal."

How does Seneca's advice apply to a Minnesota divorce?

If you substitute the word "attorney" for "friend," you've hit upon a common problem in divorce cases.

People choose lawyers too fast.

They hand over retainer payments and share intimate details of their lives without first judging the lawyer they've made their "friend." They attach significance to phony awards and popularity contests. They are swayed by the awe of a lawyer's website or whether they have an office in a skyscraper.

But not enough people choose lawyers the way Seneca urges Lucilius to judge "friends." Is this lawyer worthy of my trust? Is this lawyer a person to whom I want to confide? Is this lawyer the kind of person I want representing me?

Believe it or not, clients run divorce cases. Lawyers work for people, not the other way around. People buy services. They pay bills.

I think everyone would be better off if more people: "Ponder[ed] for a long time whether [they] shall admit a given person to [be their lawyer]; but when [they] have decided to admit him, welcome him with all [their] heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with [themselves.]"

By far, the worst moments of my legal career involve a client betrayal. A person chooses me, then, for reasons I don't understand, betrays me. They tell a spouse or friend or even the other lawyer I'm no good.

Lawyers do the same kind of backstabbing to clients. Not all, of course. But some. My jaw dropped when I watched a lawyer tell a judge (back in chambers) that her client was crazy.

We shouldn't treat each other this way.

What would happen if you had unwavering faith in your lawyer? What would be like to know that your lawyer had unwavering faith in you?

That's a world I'd like to see.

Stay strong,


Letter No. 2 -- Solicit Advice Carefully

If you're just joining me, I'm writing a daily blog applying ancient wisdom to the present day experience of people going through a divorce in Minnesota.

The wisdom comes from Seneca (an old Roman dude) who wrote a series of letters about the meaning of life to his friend, Lucilius. Whether the letters were actually sent, or just compiled in book form, doesn't matter to me because I've found his advice as sound today as when he wrote it circa 65 A.D.

All the letters can be downloaded (for free) courtesy of Tim Ferriss. Click (here) for his website. He's got a bunch of other amazing stuff too.

Today's Letter is No. 2. It's titled On Discursiveness in Reading. If that makes you want to click away, you're not alone. I had the same reaction when I read it this morning.

But sometimes good things do come in ugly packages. Today's letter is one of them.

Seneca tells Lucilius to be careful how many authors he reads because it will cause him to meander (that's what discursive means in this context) and to be unsteady. Being everywhere is nowhere, he explains.

Then he provides a series of examples everyone can understand: "Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong."

Stay focused, he's telling us.

Near the end, he answers a potential objection Lucilius may have about wanting to "dip first into one book and then into another.”

He tells his friend to resist the urge. To focus instead on things that will fortify him against poverty, death, and other misfortunes. Then he suggests that Lucilius "select one [thing] to be thoroughly digested that day" and to concentrate on it.

What good advice!

How often have I jumped from one thing to another? In the past two months, I've probably started reading twenty books, only finished five of them. I've also resolved not to eat so many pumpkin muffins, to get up earlier, to write 2,500 words a day, to not watch so much TV, to exercise 5 days per week, and to focus on being more grateful.

My computer monitor has five post-it notes stuck to it. Each one offers a different bit of wisdom.

How well do you think I'm doing focusing on so many things?

Not great.

I think the situation is the same for people going through a divorce. Many well-intentioned family members, friends, and colleagues will offer advice about what you should be doing. How you should be fighting more. How you must get more, and how you need to stand-up for yourself.

And where does all this wisdom lead you?

Nowhere, if you're lucky. Some place dark, if you're not.

As for me, I'm following Seneca's advice. At least for today anyway. I'm focusing on recapturing my own time. Trying not to let others take it from me without my consent.

So don't be upset if I tell you that our time is up. There are many more important things each of us needs to do today. We might not have many left.

Stay strong,


Letter No. 1 -- What are you doing with your life?

In yesterday's post, I gushed about Tim Ferriss's Tao of Seneca (which you can get here for free). It's a collection of letters Seneca (an old Roman dude) wrote to his friend, Lucilius, providing important life lessons.

Don't you just wish people still wrote letters?

I can't remember the last time I got a handwritten letter. And I'm not talking about one of those phony junk mailers designed to look cursive. I mean an honest to goodness letter.

If an old guy (or woman, I'm not sexist), started mailing me letters on the meaning of life, I'm not sure what I'd do.

If the advice was sound, I might send a gift card. Good mentors are hard to find.

Because I don't know if Lucilius appreciated Seneca's advice, I think we owe it to him to at least consider what he has to say. Especially since none of the so "divorce experts" or "super lawyers" I know have any idea what a divorce feels like for someone else.

Value Your Time

In Letter No. 1, Seneca tells Lucilius to "set yourself free for your own sake; gather and save your time, which till lately has been forced from you, or filched away, or has merely slipped from your hands."

He explains that "the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose."

He emphases that there is nothing in life more precious (or limited) than time. And yet, very few among us appreciate it. We let fools and cheap and useless things steal it from us.

He pleads with Lucilius to "hold every hour in your grasp . . . While we are postponing, life speeds by."

Divorce Questions

As a divorce lawyer, I see much wasted time. People consumed by anger. People who allow unkind and troubled spouses to steal the present from them. Sometimes, for years after a divorce has ended.

I don't claim to know what Seneca would say to you. I have enough trouble trying to figure out what he'd say to me.

But what I can share is that I hate when people fight unnecessary battles, even when I get paid. My life is too short. If you want that approach, I can refer you to a guy in Minneapolis. He'll fight until all your money is gone.

The other thing I believe is that you should figure out what makes you happy. And then run like hell in that direction. Don't stop to wave goodbye.

No, I'm not suggesting that you steal the kids or shack up with a new stud or quit your job.

Okay, maybe quit your job. But not until the divorce over. And you check with me first.

When we were kids, all of us knew what made us happy. We had dreams of the big things we wanted to do. The kind of people we wanted to be.

Somewhere along the way, most of us got lost. Me included. We spent nights watching Netflix instead of writing a novel or tinkering in the basement or even bowling with friends.

What if the divorce isn't the worst thing that happens to you? What if it's a gift? A second chance to take charge of your time before life passes you by.

What would you do with that time?

For me, the answer is helping people and writing fiction. I love books as much as I love law. If you poke around long enough, you might just find some stories I've written.

Stay Strong,


Seneca's Letters -- Start Here -- Letter No. 13 -- No More Fears . . .

Because I get anxious too, I often find myself drawn to the self-help genre.

Usually, it strikes me when I wake up in a funk, not caused by any particular trouble. Then I begin making lists. Mental ones, of course; no one writes actual lists.

I begin rattling off all the things I haven't done, but which a successful version of me would have done, by this stage in my life.

Some of you might be surprised to learn that I have not been elected President of the United States, even though I technically do qualify.

Not that I'm working towards that goal. Or even wish for it. From what I hear, the White House isn't very nice these days.

No matter. I still haven't achieved it.

I try to shake these thoughts while waiting for my first cup of coffee to brew by plopping down in my reading chair (a $99 dollar Ikea special) and cracking open a classic book. One of those everyone "loves" but I've never seen anyone actually read.

When my eyes hit the page, I can't make sense of the words. And it's not because I'm an idiot. It's because I can't concentrate. How could anyone concentrate when they haven't accomplished noteworthy yet?

What the hell's my problem?

So I close the book (with the mark in the same place where I started) and grab my Kindle. With a swipe of the wrist and two finger taps, I'm in the Kindle Store surfing for books. Surely, someone out there must know why I haven't achieved all those things that seemed inevitable twenty years ago.

Most times, I do find something. A bestseller. Or an approach to life that has helped millions. At first, I feel it's helping me too. I have a renewed bounce in my step. I'm confident I'm back on the right track.

But then I give up. Or get bored. Or worse. And within a few days, I'm back to making lists again.

Occasionally, however, I stumble across something worth sharing.

Today's tip comes from Letter No. 13 in Tim Ferriss's Tao of Seneca. It's called On Groundless Fears. You can download it here for free. It's part of Volume 1.

Seneca (an old Roman dude) is writing a series of letters to his friend, Lucilius, explaining the things he's learned in life.

In this letter, he tells Lucilius that "there are more things . . . likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality."

He advises Lucilius "not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers [feared] will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come."

And while he admits that some troubles are inevitable, he suggests that his friend ask:

“Well, what if it does happen? Let us see who wins! Perhaps it happens for my best interests; it may be that such a death will shed credit upon my life." Then he provides examples of famous Romans who are remembered because of how they died.

He finishes by urging Lucilius not to delay in charging forth. Go out and "increase and beautify the good that is in you."

"For the fool, with all his other faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to live.”

Wow! How many times have I been the fool?

For me, the groundless fears Seneca describes are the reason I haven't done many of the things I've wanted with my life. I've taken the safe route. Been a good lawyer. Done the things society expects of me.

But no more!

Starting today, this blog will tell the story I want to tell. And if you don't like it, feel free to click away.

I hope you don't.

Imagine how much more we could all do together if we weren't afraid of our own thoughts.

Stay strong,


The Details of a Minnesota Divorce

How does a Minnesota divorce case start?

Divorces start by serving a copy of a “Summons and Petition.” How the document is served depends on the facts of the case. Sometimes, I mail the documents to the other spouse. Other times, I must use a process server. The route I take depends on how cooperative (and urgent) the situation is. If possible, I prefer to avoid unnecessary drama.

Should I hire a lawyer or go to mediation?

Yes. And yes. Do both. Lawyers and mediators play different roles in the family court system. Some people are shocked to hear that I use a mediator on almost every case.

A lawyer offers guidance and advice. A mediator facilitates settlement.

A mediator should not recommend a settlement or advise you that a settlement is fair. If they do, they’re going beyond their role.

When selecting a mediator, it’s important to consider someone's qualifications. Not all mediators are divorce lawyers. Some are therapists. Others are people with an interest in family law.

None of these qualifications are always good or bad. But when I pick one, I look for an experienced professional with an established track record in family court.

How long does it take to get divorced in Minnesota?

Depends. How much disagreement will there be?

An uncontested case (meaning everybody agrees on everything) can be done fast. Usually two to four months. Contested cases take longer. A year. Maybe two year. And everywhere in between.

Do we have to go to court to get divorced?

Not always. It depends on the facts of your case. Ask me during your a consult.


The Basics of Divorce in Minnesota

What happens in a Minnesota divorce?

Technically, all a divorce does is end the marital relationship between two people. It separates them in the eyes of the law, allowing each to remarry in the future. Usually, though, much more takes place during a divorce proceeding than just separation.

Minnesota divorce law requires the court to address property, debts, alimony, child support, and all other issues existing between the parties. Whether any (or all) of these things occurs depends on the needs of the particular people involved. Decisions in Minnesota divorce cases are made on a case by case basis.

What’s the difference between a divorce and a legal separation?

Night and day. A divorce ends a marital relationship. A legal separation does not. A divorce permanently divides marital property and debt. A legal separation does not. A divorce allows people to remarry in the future. A legal separation does not. And, at the request of either party, an ongoing legal separation can be turned into a divorce.

Typically, I advise against a legal separation. They are relatively rare and can have unpredictable results. Today, the primary reason a person would get legally separated is due to religious concerns.

In Minnesota, there is no “waiting period” for a divorce. People are not required to live apart for any specific period of time before divorcing. Also, a person does not have to get legally separated before getting divorced.

What does it mean when people say Minnesota is a “no fault” state?

It means that a person’s “conduct” (i.e., having an affair, being abusive, drinking too much, etc.) will not be considered by the court when it divides marital property or awards alimony. In other words, the court will not punish a spouse because they were responsible for ending the marriage.

This is not to say, however, that a person’s conduct is never relevant to a case’s outcome.  Frequently, it is. For example, if a parent were an abusive alcoholic, it would make sense to think about how that parent’s substance abuse might impact his/her ability to care for a 5 month old baby.

Can anyone get divorced in Minnesota?

No. The laws of Minnesota are reserved for residents – or at least those who claim to be residents. To get divorced in Minnesota, a person must have resided here for the last 180 days (6 months). Special rules apply for military servicemembers.

If only one party lives in Minnesota, you will also need to think about whether the court has “personal jurisdiction” over the nonresident spouse. These issues can be very complicated.

Do I need a lawyer to get divorced in Minnesota?

No. People have the right to represent themselves. However, all people must follow the same court rules and procedures. Remember the old quote from Abraham Lincoln: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” I recommend that you consider talking to a few lawyers before going that way. If you find the right lawyer, you will probably be thankful you did.

Stay strong,


What You Need to Know if Your Divorce is Starting Tomorrow

It’s Sunday night.  You’re brushing your teeth.  Your spouse barges into the bathroom and blurts out, “It’s happening tomorrow.”  By "it," you know they mean divorce.  It's finally happening.

If you're like me, two schools of thought race through your mind.  The first is emotional.  Where will I live?  Where will the kids live?  Will I end-up alone?  The second is analytical.  How do I make sure I don’t get screwed?

When I eventually stop crying (and yes, there would be a lot of crying), I would consult the smartest friend available on Sunday night.  Google Chrome.  I would spend the next 3 to 4 hours reading everything I could about divorce.  I would learn that Texas is not a good place to live if I wanted spousal maintenance.  I would learn that North Carolina has a mandatory waiting period – what’s the point of that?  And in Europe, I would learn that most divorces are uncontested – I knew I always liked it there.

But the longer I searched the internet, the more angry I would become.  Each “article” (advertisement) would end the same way.  “For more specific information, contact your lawyer.” But contacting a lawyer isn't what I needed.  I just want to know what is going to happen tomorrow.

Sound familiar?  Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this way.  I doubt it.

Here’s what you really should know if your divorce is starting tomorrow.

Find out the name of your spouse’s lawyer.  Call them to arrange service.

Expect this call to be really difficult.  I have seen lots of lawyers treat people badly just because they can.  It’s terrible.  Don’t argue with the lawyer.  The only reason for the call is to avoid being hunted down by a process server.  If you can, offer to stop by their office to pick-up the paperwork.  You will need to sign an Admission of Service form.  Don’t worry.  It doesn't mean anything more than you received the documents.  Don’t sign anything else!

Repeat the following mantra 10 times before you read the documents, “This is just a request.  It’s not the right answer.”

I am always amazed by how creatively some attorneys can twist facts.  Sometime ago, a lawyer indignantly claimed to me that the law clearly supported his client's position, only to argue the exact opposite a few days later in a different case.  It’s frustrating.  But understand that it's just part of the process.  Don’t mistake the request for truth.  I have personally been involved with many cases where the final result is nothing like what was requested in the Petition.

What I do:  Scan the document.  Write down the date it was served.  Put it in a drawer to give to your lawyer.  He or she will likely do the same.

Resist the Urge to Make Radical Changes in Your Life

Sometimes, divorce motivates people to make radical life changes.  People tell me that they want to change jobs or move closer to family.  Neither of these things is necessarily bad, but you need to resist the urge to make radical life changes while things are fresh.  Big changes mean big consequences.  It's usually better to let things settle down for a week or two before doing things that are not easily undone.  One common example is moving out of the house. Moving out is a big deal.

Don’t Waste Money Just to Get Even.

About once a year, I have a client who insists on taking a “Vegas Divorce Trip.”  What they really mean is they want to go to Las Vegas (luxury style) to blow money to get even with their spouse who wasted money elsewhere.  Typically, follows a discussion we've had about dividing credit card debt during a divorce.  Please don’t do it.  It probably won’t surprise you to learn that courts don't much like Vegas trips.

Try really hard not to lean on your kids.

Elsewhere, I have written about how important it is for you to share age appropriate information with your children about the changes impacting your family.  But in the first few days following service, emotions can be really raw.  Sometimes, it makes sense to delay the conversation for a while until you get your bearings.  Find a friend or family member you can vent to so you don’t end-up saying things you will regret.

Stay off Social Media

Assume everything you post online will be read by the judge. Enough said.

Begin Creating Your Divorce Plan

As you can see, I'm a big fan of creating plans.  Divorce plans keep you focused when everyone else goes off the rails.  Knowing how you want issues resolved and having a plan to get there makes all the difference.

Take a Deep Breath.

Things seem bad now.  But it won't always be this way.  Things will get better.  You don’t need to have all the answers today.  No one knows exactly how things will end.  It’s okay to figure things out along the way.

5 Things You Need to Know About Electronic Security and Divorce

I recently heard a forensic investigator discuss how technology can be used in divorce cases.  He described how he can find deleted files, determine which websites you visited, and even reconstruct your physical movements using the GPS in your smart phone.

By the end of the session, I was convinced I no longer needed technological gadgets.  Books were fine for me, thank you.  I could save a lot of money if I ditched my clunky cell phone.  And although I rarely do anything too scandalous online – maybe just a little scandalous – I still felt like this electronic snooping was an invasion of my privacy.  Without thinking, I reflexively checked my email.  Gulp.

If you’re going through a divorce, here are the top 5 things you need to know about electronic security:

Change your passwords

My wife calls my password “old trusty.”  She’s right.  I almost always use the same password for unimportant things.  If we were to go through a divorce, she could easily access all my accounts.  For some people, changing passwords gives them an added sense of security.  For others, it’s necessary because their spouse has shown a propensity to hurt them.  Regardless, it's a good idea to change your passwords.

It’s also usually a good idea to make-up really odd security questions.  My favorite one is, “What were you drinking when you made-out with the really ugly kid in college?”  If you can’t make-up a question (and sometimes you can’t), then lie on the answer. The computer doesn’t know whether you’re telling the truth.  It’s only looking for consistent answers.

Everywhere you go online leaves a trail

On some level, I guess I always knew privacy was dead.  I just wanted to believe that after a while my meaningless searches fade into obscurity.  But, evidently that’s not the case.  Assume wherever you’re going online could be discovered in your divorce.  In other words, don’t buy land in South America for your new romantic partner and then lie about it – true story.

If you have gone somewhere on the internet you shouldn’t have gone, resist the urge to wipe your hard drive clean.  Doing so could get you sanctioned for destroying evidence.  Many times, the cover-up is worse than the worse than the crime.  The law prohibits people from using the court process to embarrass someone.

Get your own cell phone plan and do a hard reset on your phone

Cell phones do more than just reveal your physical location, they also contain information about who you talked to and what you said.  I have seen situations where one spouse “hacks” into the other spouse’s phone.  The “hack” program allows them to read email and text messages and even turn the phone into a listening device.  Sound unbelievable?  It’s not.  These programs are available cheaply online.

What can you do to prevent this type of thing?  Keep track of your phone.  Usually, a person must have access to your phone to install this type of program.  Monitor your data usage, and watch out for weird behavior.  If your phone begins to light-up or turn-off when you’re not touching it, you might want to have someone look at it.  The best way to quickly rid yourself of these programs is to do a hard reset.

Be careful about using your work computer or work email for privileged communication

Think before you use your work computer or work email for communicating with your lawyer.  Businesses have the right to monitor email communication sent on private servers and devices.  Many of the large corporations have these types of monitoring programs in place.  Exposing your sensitive emails might not only be embarrassing, it might also waive the attorney client privilege, subjecting the information to discovery by your spouse.

Stop posting on social media and other crazy blogs

Please don’t post rants about your spouse on social media or in chat forums.  You might also want to consider whether it’s a good idea to post status updates showing you drinking or engaging in objectionable activity.  I have been involved with more than one case where a Facebook posting directly contradicted the testimony a person was giving in court.

If done right, divorce doesn't have to mean the end of technology.  It just means you need to think a little more before hitting "post."