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Is spying on a spouse illegal?

In 2010, a jury convicted a Minnesota man of stalking his wife and using an electronic tracking device on her car. An Appeals court judge overturned the latter ruling, stating that, because the man owned the car with his wife, he had an ownership interest and could track where the car was at any particular time.

He is not alone. According to a report by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 92 percent of divorce lawyers have seen a significant increase in smartphone evidence in recent years - evidence "proving" that a spouse has cheated or that a spouse has been spying. More complex technology, such as GPS tracking devices and hidden cameras, are selling quicker than ever before and to a wider public. In fact, hidden camera sales are up 40 percent in 2012.

Which begs the question: When is spying on your spouse okay? Never? Only when it involves shared property? Always?

Depending on the severity of the spying and the court before which an allegation is brought, spying on a spouse can lead to a slap on the wrist or time in prison.

Take, for example, a Nebraska case, where a woman used a spying device in a teddy bear to spy on her husband. The court found her guilty of violating the Federal Wiretap Act, which prohibits the intentional use, interception, or disclosure of any wire, oral or electronic communication that is not allowed by another law. Other courts have held that the Federal Wiretap Act does not apply to wiretaps between spouses.

Other spouses have been charged under stalking laws when their spying amounted to harassment or intimidation; or trespass laws, when their actions could be considered an unlawful interference with someone else's property.

Whether you have spied on your spouse or you believe you are the victim of spying, your divorce lawyer can discuss your options with you.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "A Spy-Gear Arms Race Transforms Modern Divorce," Steve Eder, Jennifer Valentino-Devries, Oct. 5, 2012.

Learn more about Minnesota divorce by visiting our divorce page.

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