Most private investigators will tell you their work is hardly as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. For one thing, there’s no suspenseful soundtrack, and Virginia’s usually too hot for trench coats. You just go about your day, taking pictures of people and standing on public property. You are not squirreled away in a closet or renting adjacent hotel rooms (for the most part). You most certainly are not hacking computers, stealing personal information, or getting past passwords in electronic devices.

Most of the things you see on shows and in movies to add drama are just plain illegal. Private investigators think in terms of careers, not story arcs. If your wife or ex-wife is basing her strategies for a divorce or custody case on episodes of The Catch1, she could be breaking the law.

Can My Wife Snoop on My Computer, Smart Phone, or Social Media?

Nope. She cannot legally snoop on anything that is password protected. She will be breaking not one, but two laws, each with teeth that bite:

  1. Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986
  2. Stored Communications Act

These are not Virginia laws; they are federal laws. The penalties for being found guilty under 18 U.S. Code § 2701 (Unlawful access to stored communications) is one year imprisonment and a fine for the first offense and not more than five years (plus a fine) for any offense after that.

Say your wife gets into your Facebook account and gets ahold of pictures you would rather she not see. Let’s just say you, an art connoisseur, took pictures of yourself with an artist’s model…sure, let’s say that. If she has to get past a Facebook password, a computer password or two-step verification, she is breaking the law. More important, any of the evidence she thinks she has on you is inadmissible because she may have violated your Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. In other words, snooping on you, no matter what she finds or believe she’s found, will not benefit her in a divorce case.

How About United States Mail? Can My Wife Open My Mail?

Boy, she is just digging herself into all kinds of major crime, here, isn’t she? If your wife is opening your mail, she is committing a felony. This one is 18 U.S. Code § 1702, Obstruction of Correspondence. She cannot open mail addressed to someone else, and neither can she hide your mail or destroy it. To do so risks a fine and up to five years in prison.

Can My Wife Record Phone Conversations?

Wiretapping without a court order or the other person’s consent is illegal. In Virginia you can only record your own conversation; you—or your wife—cannot record a conversation between two other people (such as yourself and Amanda Huggenkis, the stripper). Let’s go to the Code of Virginia:

“It shall not be a criminal offense under this chapter for a person to intercept a wire, electronic or oral communication, where such person is a party to the communication or one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to such interception.”

You picked up on that, right? If Amanda gives your wife the okay to record the two of you talking about Amanda’s two enormous…talents—the left one and the right one—then your wife can record you, even if you do not know about it. But if you and Amanda Huggenkis are unaware your wife is crouched under the cocktail table with her iPhone on, recording your every heavy breath, your conversation is legally out of bounds.

Can My Wife Hire a Private Investigator?

Yes, she can hire a private investigator, but the private eye has to obey the same laws as your wife. The private eye is fully within her or his rights to film you or snap your picture—even through the windows of your home, without your consent—if the private eye stays on public property while doing so. This means a private investigator can sit on the shoulder of your street and take pictures of you in your living room, of course, so consider curtains if there’s cause for concern.

Is There Any Wiggle Room When It Comes to Spousal Snooping?

Your wife will have very little wiggle room to explain away any violations of privacy laws. In a goose/gander reality check, of course, you cannot spy on her, either. Many lawyers advise that you behave as though a private investigator really were following you around. Do not say or do anything you would be embarrassed to have your mom hear about in open court.

If you suspect your wife is trying to get the goods on you, you cannot simply approach her and say, “Listen, sister, nix on the pix, see?” First of all, that kind of Hollywood gumshoe talk went out in 1957, and second, she will claim to have no idea what you are talking about. Instead, call our offices at 757-383-9184 for a consultation with one of our attorneys. We serve the entire area, including Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk as well as Hampton and Newport News. If you’re looking for a family law firm Hampton Roads trusts, look no further.


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