Can Your Spouse Legally Spy on You?

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Those who love – should also trust.  However, that’s not always the case with married couples. All things considered, most marry for love.  Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that every husband or wife trusts his or her partner. In fact, some use extreme tactics, including surveillance monitors. No doubt the whole concept sounds like an invasion of privacy. Can your spouse legally spy on you?

Technology has made spousal surveillance an even bigger issue than it ever was in the past. Type in a few keywords into Google, and you can purchase GPS tracking systems, as well as cameras, recording devices and cyber trackers. In some cases, a smartphone takes the place of a hired detective.

The decision to snoop on a spouse is not particular to either gender. A controlling husband may want to monitor every movement his wife makes. Meanwhile, either sex might think the other is cheating. Of course, distrust doesn’t just happen in heterosexual relationships. Same-sex couples may also feel the need to act as undercover agents.

Here’s the thing. Spying on your spouse may not be a good idea at all. In fact, according to definitions contained in the New Jersey State Statutes – it may even constitute a predicate act of domestic violence. A recent New Jersey Appellate Division decision dealt with just this issue.

Husband Spying on Wife

The New Jersey Appellate Division submitted an unpublished opinion in the matter of E.D.B. v. D.S. The fact that the court did not mark the case for publication means that it is not precedential law. Instead, it only applies to the parties named in the decision, whose names are made anonymous by way of initials.

According to the court documents, E.D.B. and D.S. married in 2007.  E.D.B. is the wife and plaintiff in the matter and called Ellen, a fictitious name. D.S. is referred to as Daniel.

After eight years of marriage, Ellen told Daniel that she wanted to divorce him. Even after the divorce proceedings started, the estranged couple and their children continued to live in the marital home. Meanwhile, Ellen and Daniel each began dating someone else.

As might be expected, the living conditions weren’t easy. First, there was the whole concept of ending a marriage. Then, there was the idea that both had other love interests. The court referred to the problems as “provoking further difficulties and contretemps.”  The latter essentially means squabbles – although they don’t normally rise to the level of domestic violence.

In March of 2017, Ellen filed a complaint against Daniel as allowed by the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. It seems that Ellen had confirmed suspicions that her husband was spying on her, which she believed constituted stalking. More specifically, Ellen had discovered an I-Pad in a shared home office. Additionally, Daniel had placed an I-Phone under his bed to monitor or record Ellen's activities.

While Daniel conceded that he had set up the devices, he offered reasons to the court. Daniel was away on a business trip and wanted to ensure Ellen did not go through his things.  However, the court felt there were other ways for Daniel to protect his privacy. Additionally, the I-Pad and I-Phone were positioned in a way that monitored the door and hallway.

The judge concluded that the reason Daniel was essentially “listening in” on Ellen so that he would have inside knowledge of Ellen’s strategy in the divorce action.  It wasn’t as though this was the first time that Daniel spied on his estranged wife. Previously, he placed a tracking device on her car.

A restraining order was entered as it seemed apparent that Daniel’s actions would cause a reasonable person to “fear for [her] safety . . . or suffer other emotional distress.”

Daniel also filed a cross-complaint alleging that Ellen harassed him. However, the court found Daniel’s claims to be without merit.

The appeal to the Appellate Division also discusses damages and counsel fees. The high court agreed with the trial court’s decision to award Ellen $2000 in compensatory damages and $14,750 in counsel fees.

Contact Us

Not sure what constitutes domestic violence? This case might come as a surprise. If you have questions or are on either side of a domestic violence complaint, the Law Offices of Sam Stoia would like to assist you. Contact us to set up an appointment.