Cyber Harassment: New Weapon in Divorce War
My ex-spouse is harassing me with emails and text messages. This ex is saying very mean, nasty things and calling me names. It just won’t stop. I hate to give up my cell phone number and my email address, as it would be quite complicated to change. I feel threatened. It’s like I am being followed all the time. My ex always seems to know where I am. I still have my cell phone from the marriage. Is it possible there is something planted in the phone? What can I do?
The digital revolution and cyber warfare is unfortunately part of the current landscape in divorce cases. Wiretapping, spoofing, key logging and GPS tracking, along with any other imaginable surveillance, goes on in divorce cases, even though much of it may be illegal. The National Security Agency (NSA) with its Orwellian methods has set the model for the way some spouses and ex-spouses conduct a divorce case. You, as a person going through a divorce, cannot simply say, I am not a tech person. You must be knowledgeable to protect yourself and your privacy. The laws and divorce courts have not totally caught up with cyber warfare. Just think, eight of the nine justices of the US Supreme Court do not even use email on a regular basis. That being said, I have three thoughts for your specific situation.
First, your situation may fall into the category of cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is actually a North Carolina crime under NCGS 14-196.3. Under this statute it is unlawful for a person to use email or a cell phone to “communicate to another repeatedly, whether or not conversation ensues, for the purpose of abusing, annoying, threatening, terrifying, harassing, or embarrassing any person.” This is a Class 2, misdemeanor.
Second, you also may consider a 50B, as a pattern of continuous harassment can be domestic violence. You would take your evidence of the harassment and go to the courthouse and tell the clerk of court that you are interested in a 50B. They will give you forms to fill out, and then you go before a judge who will assess your evidence and decide if a protective order should be entered. Please, please tell the judge how you feel. If you are scared or frightened, please describe this fully, as not doing this might cost you the protection you need. The first order is good for 10 days, and then there is a hearing where your ex can present his side of the matter. The court will, at this 10-day hearing, decide on whether to give you a protective order for up to a year. If you get the protective order or 50B, you can then simply call the police and your ex will be locked up for contacting you. The domestic violence laws need to be strengthened in this area of cyberstalking to catch up with the times, but this is a pattern of harassment under the existing law, in my opinion.
Third, there may be some practical things you can do, such as blocking texts or emails. Your phone service and computer service providers may have a solution for blocking. If your ex was ever the administrator on your cell phone account, go to your cell service provider and have your phone checked for this problem.
We do not yet have the Guilford County Family Justice Center, but hopefully it is coming very soon to our community. If we had this center today, you could discuss your problem with skilled law enforcement and other skilled professionals for one stop shopping relief.
I have a family member who is separated. Before the separation, this person purchased a house with the deed only in her name and the deed of trust in both names. How will the courts view this property for equitable distribution? My family member thinks that since the property is only in her name that the other party has no rights under equitable distribution. Can you explain the difference between deed and deed of trust?
I’ll start first with the definitions of deed and deed of trust.
A deed is the ownership or title document and states who owns the home. Generally on the deed the owner is referred to as the grantee.
A deed of trust is the security for the debt or promissory note. When you buy a home or get an equity line on your home, you sign a promissory note to the lender. At the time of borrowing, you also sign a document called a deed of trust as security (a lien). If you do not pay the promissory note, the signatures on the deed of trust allow the lender to foreclose on the home. On the deed of trust, the lender is the beneficiary and there is a trustee. It is the trustee that forecloses if the note is not paid.
Because spouses have marital rights in a home, both spouses must sign the deed of trust generally, so that in the event of failure to pay the promissory note, the lender can foreclose. Otherwise, even if only one spouse owned the property and that same spouse was the only person on the promissory note, the lender would not be able to foreclose because of the marital rights under state law of the other spouse. Therefore, it is customary for both spouses to sign the deed of trust.
Now, let’s address your particular question concerning equitable distribution. Equitable distribution classifies property as marital, separate and divisible. In your situation, the house was purchased after marriage and before separation. Marital property, simply stated, is property acquired between the date of marriage and the date of separation, and not acquired as a result of an inheritance, family gift or is not separate or divisible property.
If the down payment and the note payments are coming from some source, such as an inheritance or property owned before marriage, there is an argument that the property is separate. Otherwise, the home you described is classic marital property to be divided in the equitable distribution or property division in the case.
However, this is not the end of the story even if there is some separate property involved. Since there is a deed of trust, there is debt. It is highly likely that this debt was paid, probably monthly, during the marriage. Those debt payments were made up of interest and principal. To the extent the debt was reduced during the marriage out of earnings made during the marriage, that debt reduction amount can be divided in equitable distribution. For example, if the debt went from $100,000 to $76,000, there would be $24,000 of marital property to divide at equitable distribution.
Further, even if separate, did the home appreciate during the marriage? If so, the $24,000 would also be entitled to appreciation proportionate to the overall appreciation of the home.
There may also be other factors to consider, such as the following: Were there improvements or renovations during the marriage? Does the non-owner spouse need the home because of custody of the children? Does the non-owner need possession as part of an alimony claim?
Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to firstname.lastname@example.org, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC 27427.
BY Carolyn Woodruff
January 23, 2014
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