What to do When Your Spouse is Spying on You

Is my spouse spying on me?

You may trust your spouse – but does your spouse trust you?

You may have something to hide or you may have nothing to hide, but either way knowing that you’re being spied on feels like a terrible invasion of your privacy.

Some forms of spying aren’t just offensive – they’re illegal.  Information a spouse uncovers about you via illegal spying can’t be used against you directly in a divorce action or custody battle.  However, if the illegally obtained information leads to legal sources of information, and your spouse can cover his or her tracks, then your spouse’s spying could end up hurting you in court.

The fact that your spouse is spying on you is also a warning sign that your relationship is in serious trouble.

Why would my spouse spy on me?

Your spouse might spy on you for any number of reasons.

Most commonly, spouses who spy are looking for evidence of an affair. But spouses may spy for other reasons as well:

  • A spouse may spy to see if you’re drinking, using drugs, or spending time with people your spouse consider dangerous or a bad influence (such as an ex).
  • A spouse may be concerned that you’re secretly spending more money than you should, or stealing from a family business.
  • A spouse may suspect that (like Don Draper in Mad Men) you’re only pretending to go to work.
  • A spouse may wonder whether you’re actually going to college classes – especially if he or she is helping to pay your way.

Some people are just suspicious – paranoid even.  If your spouse has been cheated on in the past, then he or she might be particularly concerned about it happening again.  If you’re the one who cheated before, then your spouse has good reason to be suspicious.

Some people are insecure.  An insecure spouse might want the reassurance that you’re not cheating or lying.

Some people are controlling.  They know knowledge is power and they want to have power over other people.  Knowing what you’re up to – even if it’s completely innocent – makes them feel like they’re in charge.

If you are cheating or otherwise hiding something, then you may be leaving clues all over the place – a whispered phone conversation, a quick change of computer screens, unexplained expenses, etc.  Maybe your spouse has asked you straight out about these things; maybe he or she is afraid to.  Maybe your spouse just wants to know the truth – even if it hurts – so he or she can get on with life… maybe without you.

Your spouse might also be spying to get an advantage in a divorce or custody fight.

In North Carolina, a spouse is entitled to alimony if he or she is dependent on the other spouse and if the court concludes that awarding alimony would be fair under the circumstances.

One of the factors a court will consider is marital misconduct by either spouse.  If a court finds that the supporting spouse committed adultery, then the court must order the supporting spouse to pay alimony to the dependent spouse.

If the supported spouse or both spouses committed adultery, then the court can use its discretion to either award or deny alimony to the supported spouse.

It’s not considered “marital misconduct” if one spouse condoned the adultery of the other.  Thus, if one spouse knew that the other was cheating, and forgave or accepted it, then the court would not consider infidelity a factor in awarding alimony.

The same issues apply in the case of post-separation support.

Courts can also take adultery into consideration when making decisions about child custody.

Although an affair will not generally be an issue when it comes to the division of property, if a cheating spouse spent significant marital assets on the affair, then the affair is relevant.   For example, did the cheating spouse buy expensive gifts (such as jewelry) for a lover?  Did the cheating spouse spend money on hotel rooms or vacations with the lover, or even set him or her up in a “love nest” apartment?

Criminal Conversation and Alienation of Affection

A spouse who suspects an affair may spy in order to uncover evidence that could support the filing of a civil lawsuit for criminal conversation or alienation of affection against the spouse’s paramour.

The lover may be required to pay damages for:

  • Loss of consortium (marital affection and fellowship, including sex),
  • Mental anguish,
  • Humiliation,
  • Damage to health (due to stress and other factors), and
  • Loss of financial support by the cheating spouse.

The injured spouse may also seek punitive damages against the lover.

How can I tell if I’m being spied on?

Your spouse may be spying on you in any or all of a number of ways:

  • Monitoring your mail, email, phone calls, and/or text messages
  • Monitoring your use of social media (such as Facebook)
  • Tracking you or your vehicle using GPS
  • Having you “bugged”
  • Watching you via video surveillance (including via a “nanny cam”)
  • Having you followed by a private investigator
  • Following you personally

Email and Internet monitoring

Your spouse may not need any special software or gadgets to check your email.  He or she may simply check your computer or smartphone when you’re not using them, if they’re not protected by a password.

Your spouse may also know (or be able to guess) your passwords and get into your email and Internet accounts that way.

Your spouse may also install spyware in your computer or cellphone that will allow him or her to remotely monitor your emails and the websites (including dating sites and chat rooms) you’re visiting.

Keystroke logging (also called keylogging or keyboard capturing) software and hardware can allow your spouse to track every character you enter – including passwords to your personal financial accounts.  There are tools (such as this one) you can use to detect whether there’s a keystroke logger installed on your computer.

So how else can you tell if you have spyware on your computer?

An anti-virus program, such as McAfee or Norton, should be able to detect spyware (or prevent it from being installed in the first place).  If you don’t have anti-virus protection on your computer, you should get it for a lot of reasons – spying by your spouse is the least of your worries.

Cell phone monitoring

Your spouse may be able to install a program like phonesheriff INVESTIGATOR that allows him or her to view your text messages, call history, GPS location, contacts, photos, and other information.   This particular program works by intercepting your iCloud backups, so if you change your iCloud password it will stop working.

If your Apple iPhone is “jailbroken,” then it’s especially vulnerable to spyware.

If YOU didn’t jailbreak your phone, then your spouse may have done it in order to install spyware.  Here’s a site that will let you find out and restore the phone to the factory settings.  Make sure your phone is backed up to iCloud before you reset it!

Landline monitoring and other bugs

Your spouse may have the expertise or resources to bug your home, office, car or (landline) phone.  Here are some signs that you might have been bugged:

  • You notice odd sounds or volume changes on your phone.
  • You can hear sounds coming from your phone even after you hang up.
  • Often when your phone rings there’s nobody there, but you can hear a faint tone, squeal, and/or beep.
  • Your TV or FM radio suddenly develops interference.
  • Your electrical wall plates are out of place.
  • You notice white-wall dust or debris on the floor.

Although it’s sad to feel that you have to “look a gift horse in the mouth,” a present from your spouse in the form of an electronic device (such as a clock radio, boom box, or CD player) or even a teddy bear may hide a bug or a surveillance device.

Being followed

How can you tell if you’re being followed?

  • Be aware of your surroundings.  Don’t always be staring at your cellphone or listening to music.  Really notice the people you see and the cars that drive by.
  • If you’re driving, slow down, and notice if a car behind you slows down too.  If you’re on a highway, pull into the right lane and drive the speed limit (or just below it).
  • If you’re walking, stop suddenly.  Have you phone set up to take a “selfie” and then use it to peak behind you and see if someone’s waiting for you to start moving again.

Although this is an old-time thriller cliché, you can also hire a private detective to find out if you’re being followed and “follow the follower.”  You can read more here about hiring a private investigator.

How should I respond when I learn my spouse is spying on me?

You have several options when you discover that your spouse is spying.

One response is to be totally open and totally transparent.  Admit to any wrongdoing and seek counseling to repair the damage to your relationship.

If you haven’t done anything wrong (and don’t plan to), offer to share passwords and “friend” each other on all of your social media accounts.  Install an app such as GPS Tracker in your smartphone that will let your spouse see where you are at all times.

Another response is to explore why your spouse felt the need to spy on you.  Is the problem with your spouse, with you, or with your relationship?  You may need couple’s therapy to resolve these issues.

You can also decide to make it much harder for your spouse to spy on you, and hope that he or she quits trying.  For example, you can use (and change) passwords on all your devices, use anti-spyware software, and have your home and office swept for bugs.

You may decide that the spying indicates your marriage is irrevocably broken and seek a divorce.

If you feel your spouse should be punished for violating your privacy, and especially if you think that your spouse may be a danger to you or to others, you can seek criminal penalties or civil remedies.

Criminal Penalties for Spying

Some forms of spying are violations of state or federal law.

For example, if your spouse is found guilty of violating the Federal Wire Tapping Act, at a very minimum he or she can be ordered to stop the illegal acts.  For example, a court can order him or her to remove spyware from your phone or computer, stop recording your calls, etc.

If your spouse previously violated the Act and continues to do so, he or she can be subject to fines of $500 for each violation.

Your spouse can also face up to five years in prison for violating the Act.

Violation of the North Carolina Electronic Surveillance Act is a Class H Felony.  Damages to the victim are calculated at the rate of $100 per day, or $1000 total, whichever is greater.  Under the state law, you can also recover punitive damages to punish your spouse, and attorney’s fees to pay your lawyer.

Civil Suits for Spying Spouses

Under North Carolina law, you can bring a civil action against your spouse (or former spouse) for invasion of privacy by intrusion.

This tort is defined as follows:

One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.

Forms of intrusion include:

physically invading a person’s home or other private place, eavesdropping by wiretapping or microphones, peering through windows, persistent telephoning, unauthorized prying into a bank account, and opening personal mail of another.

In 2012, a former Sheriff’s Deputy was sued in Brunswick County, North Carolina by his ex-wife after he used spyware to monitor her emails and Internet activity.  A jury awarded her $25,400 in compensatory and punitive damages.