Preserving Text Messages for Use in Divorce Court

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

In family law, parties frequently have to prove what information has been exchanged between two spouses. When the parties communicate via letter or e-mail, it is easy to produce reliable evidence: just photocopy the letter or print the e-mail message. Text messages, however, are not quite so easy. It is not practical to physically take a cell phone into court, and it is certainly not possible to send a cell phone to an adverse attorney during discovery. Given the wild popularity of text messaging in recent years – in 2011, more than 6 billion text messages were sent per day in the U.S. alone – odds are good that if you go through a divorce, you will need to preserve a text message to show a judge or attorney.

There are several ways to document a text message thread for use in court, though none of them is a perfect solution. The simplest method is to take one or more screenshots of the text message thread. On an iPhone, press the home button and the lock button on your phone at the same time. If you have done so correctly, the screen will flash white briefly. For Android phones, the easiest way to take a screenshot varies from phone to phone. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 can be configured so that you can swipe the edge of your hand (in a karate-chop gesture) across the screen from left to right. Search the web for information specific to your phone model if you use an Android device. Whichever platform you use, the screen shot will appear in your phone’s photo gallery, and you can then distribute it as an e-mail attachment just like any other photo. Continue reading »

College Costs and Divorce

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

I was recently interviewed on the issue of college expenses for children in divorce cases for the “Legal Corner” of the Ladue News.

In the article, I commented as follows:

In the best of scenarios, … parents agree to work together with their children to determine how to plan and save for this major life expense….

When today’s divorced parents go to court over college costs in Missouri, the judge orders mom and dad to pay percentages based on their respective incomes and resources, and the child has no financial responsibility…. However, each parent’s annual share cannot exceed about $10,000—half of the approximately $20,000 in-state tuition, books, and room and board for the University of Missouri.

Click here to read the full article … Ladue News

Does It Matter Who Files for Divorce First?

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

A question I am often asked by divorce clients is “Should I be the one to file for divorce?” Generally speaking, it legally does not make a difference if you or your spouse is the first to file.

However, as is the case with most rules, there are exceptions.

In some situations, there may be more than one county where you can properly file your divorce action. There may be factors and circumstances where it would be advantageous for you to file in a particular county over another. If that is the case, then you would want to be the one who files first. Your attorney can help you make this determination based upon his/her experience with the different counties. Continue reading »

First Same-Sex Divorce Granted in Missouri

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

A Boone County judge has granted the first divorce to a same-sex couple in the state of Missouri, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune. While another same-sex couple previously had their marriage annulled in the state, this is the first case of a Missouri judge dissolving a same-sex marriage.

This case is worth noting because Missouri does not currently recognize same-sex marriages. Continue reading »

Thinking About Reading Your Spouse’s Emails? Think Again

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

I am often asked whether it is illegal in Missouri to access your spouse’s email account. I have previously written about the potential consequences of tracking your spouse’s actions via spy software. There are a couple of laws in Missouri that could be construed as applying to a situation where one spouse accesses the other’s email…either because the password is known or guessed.

In 2010 a Michigan man was charged under that state’s computer hacking law after it was discovered that he had been reading his estranged wife’s emails to determine if she was cheating.  His wife did not share her password with her husband, had never written it down, and did not store her passwords in her browser. Her husband, a computer technician, was able to figure out her password and access her Gmail account. When his wife learned about the email snooping, she reported it to the police. This case was ultimately dismissed as it was discovered that the wife was accessing her husband’s email as well. But it is important to note that the Michigan court did apply that state’s statute to email and did find that there was no spousal exception to unauthorized computer access.

The Missouri Computer Tampering Act makes it a misdemeanor, and in some cases even a felony, to tamper with computer data. There are no reported Missouri cases presently that have addressed the specific issue of accessing your spouse’s email. However, a case could be made (similar to the case in Michigan) under the language of this law. There is also a civil law that could potentially be violated as well, allowing for a civil action (and recover for compensatory damages and attorney’s fees) to be brought against a spouse for tampering with computer data. Continue reading »

How to File Your Taxes During or After a Divorce

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

It can be difficult to determine how to file your taxes during and after a divorce.  Depending on your filing status, there are differences that can significantly impact the amount of tax you owe or the amount you are refunded.

The following is a list of issues to be aware of when filing your taxes:

  1. What is my filing status?  If you are still legally married as of December 31, you have to file your taxes either “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately.”  Discuss with your CPA the benefits/disadvantages of both as “married filing separately” can reduce tax benefits.
  2. Who will claim your children as dependents?  Divorced couples can chose to divide the dependent exemptions for their children.  There may be other allowable deductions for expenses you pay for your children, such as medical expenses or childcare. Continue reading »

Getting Divorced? Don’t Forget These Assets

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

This article in Forbes is very good advice, not only for women, but also for men getting divorced.  Many of these assets are often overlooked.

Divorcing Women: Don’t Forget These Marital Assets –

How Do You Want to Get Divorced? An Overview of Your Process Options

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

When you have made the decision to divorce, it’s important to realize that you have several options in moving forward.  Be wary of an attorney who has a “one size fits all” attitude – your case is unique and may be suited for an option other than the typical one of going straight to court. Here is a brief overview of the different processes to consider:

  1. The Kitchen Table. You and your spouse negotiate all of the issues with each other, before either of you files with the court.  Often, when all of the agreements have been reached, one of you hires an attorney that represents only that person to prepare the required documentation for filing with the court. It is possible however, to file the divorce yourself without an attorney. While I do not recommend that you file yourself, many courts, including St. Louis County in Missouri, have forms available online to obtain a divorce. This option is most suited for couples who do not have a high level of conflict, and where both spouses fully understand the finances and property and have a high level of trust between them.

    Advantages: Quick and inexpensive

    Disadvantages: No professional advice from an attorney (or only one spouse obtains professional advice) of legal rights and options; no formal method of information gathering (“discovery”) to ensure your spouse is being honest with financial information

  2. Mediation. You and your spouse have a series of meetings with a trained mediator (who is also a family law attorney), who does not represent either of you, to negotiate and reach agreements in your case. The mediator’s role is to advise you of the law facilitate negotiations, help generate options, draft the final Separation Agreement, and, if you have children, draft the Parenting Plan. Both spouses are advised to consult with their own respective attorneys during the process but are not required to do so. This option is best suited for couples who do have disagreements but are committed to resolving them outside of court and need the assistance of an unbiased neutral to help reach agreements.

    Advantages: No court involvement; structured negotiation process; couple has control over all decisions

    Disadvantages: Could become costly if you pay a mediator and two attorneys; a spouse that is controlling and/or abusive may take advantage of the other spouse during the process (i.e., there is an imbalance of power); no formal method of discovery Continue reading »

When You Cross a Line: Spying and Stalking

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

Recently I was interviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the topic of stalking or tracking a spouse using technology. In the article “Stalkers find friend in GPS technology,” I share what I have been seeing related to the use of technology to spy or track spousal activities or whereabouts:

Sophya Qureshi Raza, a private attorney who practices family law in the St. Louis region, said she has seen an increasing number of instances over the past year, including three she handled.

The worst of them, she said, involved a husband in St. Louis County who downloaded software into his wife’s phone to show her location and record her conversations. The wife found out, Raza said, by finding a purchase receipt under couch cushions.

Raza, a partner at Danna McKitrick, successfully argued that the husband’s actions constituted stalking under Missouri’s adult abuse law and required a protective order, the same result as in her other two cases.

But most often, she said, judges allow such tracking in divorce cases, unless there is a clear threat or harassment.

“I think it’s a case where the statute hasn’t caught up with technology,” the lawyer said.

Read the full article here.

Holiday Tips for Divorced Parents

Sophya Qureshi Raza

By Sophya Qureshi Raza

Unfortunately, for many divorced families, the holidays can be a stressful and emotional time. The joyfulness of the holidays can be replaced with feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness…not only for parents, but for their children as well.

The holidays are a busy time for family law attorneys, with parents often butting heads over holiday plans, visitation schedules, winter vacations, out-of-town travel, family events…the list goes on and on.

Keep these tips in mind to decrease not only the anxiety surrounding the holidays, but hopefully your lawyer bills as well:

  1. Plan Ahead.If you haven’t looked at that Parenting Plan in a while, now may be a good time. Make sure you understand what the plan provides in terms of the holidays and winter vacations. If you and your ex-spouse are on good terms, do you need to have any discussions about times/days of visitation and make any adjustments? More stress is added when these things are addressed at the last minute. If you’re not on good terms, send a confirmation email to your ex-spouse confirming your understanding of the Parenting Plan. If there is going to be a problem, better to find this out early. Continue reading »