How Do I Use Text Messages in Divorce Court?
Text messages in divorce court can be important evidence to bring before a Judge. When you are in the middle of a dispute with your spouse (or soon-to-be ex-spouse) you may find yourself receiving numerous texts. Perhaps many of the text messages are harassing and show that your ex-spouse is not being the great person he tries to portray to the Judge when you are in divorce court. When that happens, you need to preserve these harassing text messages so that you can use them as evidence and get them before the Judge.
Preserving All Text Messages for Use in Court
Text messages are being used in court to support a person’s story. If you are in this situation you should and have text messages you think would be helpful in court, be sure to keep all of your messages intact on your phone. This way you have the messages showing a complete chain of events — a complete story if you will.
Do Not Omit Any Texts
You do not want to give your lawyer just some of the text messages leaving out your text responses that you feel are embarrassing or show you in a negative light. If your ex-spouse also brings in the same text message story, your attorney will be surprised by this and the opposing attorney would use that against you.
For example, if you arrive to pick up your child for parenting time and you send a text at 5:30 p.m. saying “I’m here, send Johnny down” and the response at 5:31 p.m. is “Johnny is not here” and you use that to show that your ex is withholding your parenting time, but fail to show your reply text at Noon that day saying “I have to work late tonight” and you had not shared that message with your attorney, you may not get the result you were hoping for from the Judge.
Text Messages Must Relate to the Issues in Your Case
The text messages must tell a story that relates to the issue before the Judge. For example, a text from your ex-spouse that says, “I put Junior to bed at 8 pm tonight so he can’t call you” could be used to show not only that Junior did not call you that particular night, but that text could also be used to show that he had possession of Junior that night.
Proof Required Showing Texts Were From Your Ex-Spouse
You also must provide proof that the messages were from your ex-spouse. You will testify that you have him/her saved in your phone with his name and/or phone number and that it appears on your phone with his/her name and/or phone number and that it was received on a specific date and time.
Corroborating Date and Time of Messages
It is important to remember that when you print or screenshot a text message that was received on the day your print it, it will simply say it was received “Today” which is not good enough. You will have to wait until the next day to print or screenshot the text message when the date and time appears.
Screenshots are often used to preserve and bring the messages into court, but Screenshots are not the best option if you have a long communication string as they are difficult to screenshot and then piece together. If you have a few messages — screenshots are fine. If you have many messages covering many conversations you should investigate utilizing an app or software program that will save the messages in order and download them onto your computer. If you are involved in a contentious court proceedings and text messaging is the mode of communication commonly used by you and your ex-spouse, these programs are worth the investment.
Using Phone Bill
You can also corroborate the dates and times with your phone bill which should indicate that text messages were sent/received from a certain number at a certain time.
Copies of Text Messages from Cell Phone Provider Not Available
I have been asked by clients if I can send a subpoena to the cell phone company to get copies of the text messages. Unfortunately, this is not possible in normal circumstances because there are billions of texts being sent every day — millions every minute that it is just not possible for this data to be saved. For this reason, along with potential federal prohibitions against divulging contents of some communications, it is often impossible to obtain copies of text messages from a cell phone provider.
Most importantly, keep in mind that any text message you send could be used against you in your divorce litigation and shown to a Judge in your case. Using text messages to communicate is an everyday occurrence between spouses and soon-to-be ex-spouses, so be mindful of what you write, how you write it and to whom you are writing.
At Anderson & Boback, we’re passionate about solving complex family law issues for our clients and their families throughout the Chicago area. Contact us today for a confidential consultation when you have questions or concerns about divorce including using text messages as divorce evidence.