Using Geolocation Data In Your Termination of Alimony Case

The following article was written by a client, who wanted to share his experiences with his fellowmen, but until his pending claim is over, wished to remain anonymous.

If your supported ex-spouse is cohabitating, he/she probably uses cloaking tactics that would make a good spy blush. Your efforts to prove his/her shenanigans can seem fruitless: they hide cars, swear your kids or friends to secrecy, and even maintain separate residences and accounts, all in attempts to stay one step ahead of you, create plausible deniability, and keep you on the hook for their cash flow. Forcing you to continue to foot the bill for their lifestyle is the ultimate goal, and they’ll pursue and protect it vigorously. Adding to your misery is that the means for you to prove your suspicions are limited, time-consuming and expensive. Strategies such as conducting your own covert surveillance, paying a private investigator, or getting someone else to squeal on a mutual friend or family member all have their own problems, risks, and costs.

Fortunately, almost everyone nowadays carries with them a hidden-in-plain-site “spy,” knowingly or not: the smartphone. The smartphone records important data about its user’s whereabouts, as well as other information relevant to the cell carrier’s business. Described as geolocation data, this data describes in fairly specific terms where you’ve been, how long you were there, and where you went next – about every 8.5 seconds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year. I have actually obtained and analyzed this information, and am currently using it in litigation to support my claim that my former spouse is cohabiting, so that the court will terminate my alimony obligation. This post is my account of what I’ve learned about this technology, the right way to go about getting it, and the best way to use it in a case like mine. I want to help those of you who are vexed, as I was, to “cut to the chase” if you’re considering how you might go about doing this yourself.

My case is ongoing, and this is my first anonymous report “from the wild”.

1.    Detach yourself: hard as it is, check your emotions, which cloud your thinking and judgment. Conclusions reached when you’re emotional may be inaccurate. Always ask yourself “What can I prove vs. what do I feel?” Take a deep breath, and move forward clinically.

2.    Document everything: keep notes on everything that you do, including times, dates, and details of conversations and places. When you finally receive the geolocation data, cross check your notes to validate the data. Wherever applicable, take time-stamped pictures (another wonderful feature of that smartphone!)

3.    Educate yourself: knowing all about wireless technology is not a requirement, but you should at least familiarize yourself with how tower segments interoperate in an area so you’ll understand what the data is showing you. This information is available on the internet, or you can consult with an expert.

4.    Select the right attorney: if considering using cell tower location data in your case, make sure your attorney isn’t going to fight you on it. This is a new field of discovery in civil matters, and some will not want to plow the hard ground for you.

5.    Find a good expert: Most carriers will have support staff to help you with some of the logistics, but retaining an expert to shepherd you and/or your attorney through all of the legal maneuvering required to get the data is critical if you want to avoid road blocks, save time and minimize expense.

6.    Know the strength of your case: be prepared for the possibility that the geolocation data might prove that your ex-spouse wasn’t cohabitating, or at least wasn’t staying over as much as you thought. Keep that in the back of your mind, and always have an exit strategy.

7.    Understand civil codes: laws on discovery and privacy vary from state to state, but there is one underlying need that will always help you – the court’s ultimate goal of getting to the truth. There are methods to protect privacy interests while still helping you get to the truth through hard data.

8.    Be patient: knowing that I will keep paying alimony as my case drags on, while my ex-spouse is denying, deflecting, and deferring at every step, is frustrating. The court system works, albeit slowly, and the cell carriers can take 30-90 days to provide data once you subpoena it. But, those who are patient reap the rewards.

9.    Don’t get discouraged.

Diane L. Danois, J.D