In many circumstances, both spouses have full access to a family computer. It could be a computer on which several members of the family access their email, pay bills, or store their music libraries. When a computer is shared amongst family members, passwords are usually known and accessible to both spouses. Given these facts, either party can rightfully access any information stored in the computer because there is no expectation of privacy.

When does one person cross the line from rightfully accessing information to doing so illegally?

The key to determining if someone crosses the line is when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. If, for example, one spouse maintains a password-protected account for which the password is known only to that individual, the information in that account would be "privileged" (a legal word for private). The creation of a password to secure an account generates an expectation of privacy for the owner of the password-protected information.

In some cases, it may be argued that the spouse who "cracks" a password to access a password-protected account has committed a crime. However, the statutes in Pennsylvania, which apply to families in Bucks County, are very vague in this regard. In most instances, the police are not interested in the prosecution of such activity. In a family law matter, the punitive sanctions (a.k.a. punishment) occur when the spouse who improperly accessed the password-protected account or computer attempts to offer this information in court. Family law courts would likely deny the use of such "illegally" or "inappropriately" accessed information.

Many times, the information that a person improperly obtains by accessing a password-protected account can be properly obtained through divorce proceedings.

What should you do if you suspect your spouse is hiding information or accessing private information?

If you suspect that your spouse is hiding information that may be relevant to your divorce or support matter, you should speak with your divorce lawyer to learn about your rights. On the other hand, if you suspect that your spouse has violated your privacy by accessing your password-protected computer or accounts, you have certain rights and should speak with a matrimonial lawyer to determine your best course of action.

In all cases, it is important to understand your rights and when you might be violating the rights of others or vice versa.