Spousal Spying: Is it a Crime?

October 03, 2009 | Blog, Divorce

Icon for author Brian Vertz Brian Vertz

Back in the days before the no-fault divorce law was passed, unhappy spouses had to prove abuse, infidelity, abandonment, or other grounds for a divorce. It wasn’t easy to catch someone in the act! Hiring a private detective was part of the standard routine for a spouse seeking a divorce.

Today, fault divorces are rare, but the ability to prove fault grounds has improved remarkably. Voice mail, text messages, email, and social networking sites may contain incriminating evidence. Miniature recording devices, global positioning devices, computer tracking software, and other tech-age developments have made spousal spying easier than ever.

Suspicious spouses who are tempted to spy, however, need to be aware of the legal pitfalls. Pennsylvania’s criminal wiretapping law prohibits the interception of any wire, electronic or oral communications. It may be a criminal act to tape a telephone conversation without permission or to use computer keystroke programs that record incoming or outgoing email messages. Wiretapping is a third degree felony.

Moreover, the protection from abuse law prohibits stalking, which is defined as as “a course of conduct, or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority…” The law against criminal harassment contains a similar definition.

In some circumstances, proof of a spouse’s infidelity may have real benefits in a divorce case. However, the evidence may not be useful if it is obtained illegally. Consulting with a divorce lawyer is a good way to avoid criminal penalties that may arise from spousal spying.

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