Matchmaking and marriage services on the Internet have brought millions of Americans together. But the Net has also become a helpful tool when people want marriages to END.
Splitting from a spouse is rarely easy emotionally, but in many divorces, the Internet has made the process quicker, more efficient, and cheaper.
Lindsey Short, Jr., a past president of the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is a partner in the largest family-law firm in Houston, Texas. He says that thanks to the Internet, the firm, which handles many high-profile divorce cases, has all but done away with its library of law books. And you’ve seen enough photos or courtroom dramas showing law libraries to know how many expensive, leather-bound volumes that must have entailed.
Simply put, Short says, “We do our research online. We hire experts through Internet resources — investigation analysts. We use the Internet dramatically, daily.”
Picture Erle Stanley Gardner’s classic defense attorney, Perry Mason, entering a search term.
Until firms like Lindsey Short’s learned to use the Internet, he says, only wealthy, or what he calls “silk-stocking” law firms could afford to hire the teams of experts and private investigators that are sometimes required, especially when rich, prominent people divorce.
“The ability to investigate assets and their existence and where they are — you can do that sittin’ at your desk today,” he told me. “These days, a solo practitioner can compete with a thousand-person law firm.”
While some marriages end amicably, other divorces are bitter, especially those in which one spouse has been unfaithful. Lindsey Short believes the Internet has contributed to this problem, increasing marital infidelity by offering straying partners many temptations, including websites catering to sexual fantasies that some spouses turn into reality.
Now there’s an opportunity not only to have what’s come to be called “cybersex” but to go further than that and actually establish personal relationships that would have been difficult, impossible, risky. These relationships are easy to find, and they translate to an extremely dangerous sort of situation.
When one spouse is suspicious of the other, or thinking about divorce and eager to discover what monetary assets a spouse may be hiding, divorce attorneys turn the Internet into an investigative tool. They hire quite a different kind of private investigator, or “private eye,” than the Hollywood version of the “gumshoe” detective — you know, the guy in the fedora, chain-smoking in the shadows — who follows people, still calls women “dames,” and knocks on doors, seeking information.
Curt Bryson, a San Antonio, Texas, computer security consultant and former U.S. Air Force investigator, says that today many private eyes are instead sophisticated Internet sleuths. The time they spend — and therefore the costs they can bill to a client — are often a fraction of what detective work would have cost in the past.
Bryson says cheating spouses or those who may be engaged in criminal behavior are usually careful about leaving a paper trail, but it’s not so easy in cyberspace.
Folks tend to open their mouths a lot more than they probably should on worldwide Web online chats, social-media posts, that kind of thing. They leave a plethora of information there. Now there are tools out there that are used to hide your tracks. But typically those aren’t a hundred percent effective. There’s still a lot that an investigator can do, or a forensics person can do.
Indeed, many private dicks — now I’m really dating myself to the James Cagney era — advertise their services on the Internet by calling themselves “computer forensics experts.” Forensics, meaning the use of science or scientific techniques to solve crimes.
Or in this case, to find people or “get the goods” on cheating or corrupt spouses.
Curt Bryson says it’s usually not necessary any longer for a suspicious spouse to sneak an investigator into the house to tap into the other spouse’s computer in search of evidence of infidelity or wrongdoing. “It’s not just the bad guy’s machine that has evidence,” he says. “We have computers on the corporate side or out in the government arena. That’s where evidence may lie as well.”
And sophisticated technology now permits snoops to access computers from the street, without connecting to any wires.
Dan Cohn, an officer of the Docusearch investigative service, based in Florida, put his company online in 1996. Almost overnight, he told me, it changed from a small firm looking for clients near its Virginia office, to a nationwide company offering about a hundred different kinds of searches.
“If you find a telephone number, and you don’t know who belongs to that telephone number, we can find out. If you have an address, and you want to find a telephone number that goes with that address, we can find out. If you’re trying to locate somebody, we can find that person for you.”
Just by clicking the keys on a computer and knowing where to look and what to look for.
What’s the secret, say, to tracking down a spouse who has departed suddenly, perhaps with the children and almost certainly with some family assets? Once again, even carefully conniving people overlook things. They may have phone service or electric service that they are canceling, for instance. They will give those utilities their forwarding address to receive their final bills or get a deposit back. Utility records are a snap to access for skilled cybersleuths.
But Internet-savvy detectives caution even avid Internet users to watch out for a multitude of “quickie” investigative services that have sprouted on the Net. Says Curt Bryson:
The majority of those, you know, where it’s saying, ‘Be your own Internet detective,’ those kinds of things, they’re not giving you a whole heck of a lot you can’t do with about 15 or 20 minutes’ worth of research using something as simple as Google.
Lest one think that the Internet is valuable only for couples who are going their separate ways, family lawyer Lindsey Short in Houston points out that the Net is also a jackpot of Web sites that can SAVE a marriage. He points out that there are sites for counselors, religious advisers, cruise-line companies, chocolatiers, furriers — and sex therapists.
Ted's Wild Words
These are a few words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word that you'd like me to explain, just ask!
Conniving. Scheming, conspiring to do something improper or illegal.
Jackpot. A large cash prize, often one that accumulates over time. The origin of the term traces to the poker card game. In the game of jacks-or-better draw poker, the pot — the amount of money wagered on a particular hand that’s sitting in the middle of the table — cannot be won until one of the players has at least two jack face cards in his hand. At that point, it becomes a jackpot.
Plethora. An excess of something, such as a plethora of candidates for an advertised job.