The New Online Breakup: What Are The Consequences?

By YourTango

The New Online Breakup: What Are The Consequences?
Has technology changed how (and how often) we end relationships?

Women also use Facebook, MySpace and other sites to find the "other woman." Take the case of "T" Bodnar of Hoboken, N.J., who was outed on MySpace a year ago by an ex-girlfriend he dated for five years, and his most recent girlfriend whom he's since broken up with. Bodnar, 38, drummer in the cover band Lifespeed, was in the process of trying to end the newer relationship after he resumed contact with his ex. Both women found out about each other and found one another on MySpace. The women began texting and sending photos back and forth.

The episode, Bodnar says, "really made me look like a piece of shit. I didn't feel good about this. I was trying to walk away quietly but within a couple of hours on MySpace, they were connected and trash-talking me." The women left nasty messages on the band's home page and blog.


"I felt kind of violated and that my privacy was worthless and because I wasn't exactly being a stand-up guy [by talking to both and having feelings for both], I was very embarrassed. I had no control of the situation," he explains.

Last year in the uber-cool blogging world, a relationship between bloggers Moe Tkacik and Richard Blakeley, both of Gawker Media, exploded into the public domain and turned ugly post-breakup. Tkacik had written an unflattering account of the couple's liaison on her personal blog. Blakeley retaliated by posting a video of himself simulating sex with a dead fish.

"The stakes are really high. Technology is used so regularly now not only to uncover what's going on with relationships, but you can go online and send a text message from a number that's not your number," says Danine Manette, author of Ultimate Betrayal: Recognizing, Uncovering and Dealing With Infidelity.

"I think with the advances in technology and the ability to know in real time the whereabouts of the person you're looking for, we're going to see more and more vengeful assaults. It's going to get ugly," says Manette, who's also a criminal investigator with a law degree.

Indeed, technology changes everything, but old-fashioned gumshoe tactics remain effective to catch cheating spouses or partners. Jerry Palace—a former New York City police detective—runs Check a Mate, which specializes in matrimonial investigations. He conducts GPS tracking, background investigations, uses hidden cameras and other methods to confirm cheating.

"The big thing today is following them. Years ago, we sent decoys, you sent a girl to somebody's boyfriend or husband," Palace notes. He says legally, there are now more restrictions on what he can do with phone and financial records and bills so "we've gone back to the basics— it's surveillance."

Most of his clients, like Mary, whose name is changed to protect her identity, use the tactic to confirm what they already know, to confirm "that they're not crazy."

"When somebody calls me, it's almost like a Playbill, there's a whole cast of characters," says Palace. "They say 'I just want to know if I'm crazy.' The investigation reinforces what they already know."

Divorce Courting
The pervasiveness of text messaging, email, the six degrees of separation afforded by social networks like Facebook and MySpace, hard-drive tracking, and the ease with which video networks like YouTube enable exes to badmouth each other to the Internet-surfing public at large, make breakups more loaded than ever and make grounds for divorce all the more accessible.

Take the scorched earth strategy of 52-year-old Patricia Walsh-Smith, a playwright and former actress who is the estranged wife of Philip Smith, president of the Shubert Theater organization. Engaged in a nasty, high-stakes divorce case, this spring she posted several videos on YouTube where she revealed that Smith, 25 years her senior, wouldn't have sex with her claiming problems with high blood pressure. The shocker: She tells the web-viewing public that she discovered a stash of Viagra, condoms, and porn magazines in the couple's apartment. The videos racked up nearly 200,000 views.

Patricia Walsh-Smith's video stylings apparently had no impact on the outcome of her divorce case. On July 21, a judge ruled that she has just 30 days to vacate the Park Ave. apartment she once shared with her estranged husband Smith. The judge also ruled that she'd have to settle for the $750,000 she agreed to in the prenup. The judge said she inflicted "cruel and inhuman" treatment on Smith by taking her case to the Internet.
All supermodel Christie Brinkley needed in her recent divorce case was an open court room, along with well-documented evidence of ex-husband Peter Cook's Internet porn habit. While she employed old-fashioned offline gumshoes to tail Cook, the case settled before the investigators' reports came to light.

In divorce cases, laws vary from state to state as to what evidence is admissible in court. Courts in some states can subpoena the information from hard drives and cell phone cards. In most divorce cases, there are some kinds of electronic evidence-gathering methods.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick faces potential perjury charges after claiming under oath that he didn't have an affair with a city employee. However, proof of the affair was discovered in thousands of flirtatious text messages to his former staffer. It remains unclear as to whether the messages were accessed illegally but if they were obtained legally, the content can be admitted into court.

There are ways to clone computer hard drives and there are even computer programs that can download data stored on a memory card that resides in cell phones.

Colt Taylor, computer repair technician in Boca Raton, Florida, was called to a woman's house for what he thought would be a routine call for virus protection. Instead, he was asked by the visibly angry woman to clear all instances of her estranged husband or boyfriend (she didn't indicate which) from the hard drive and remove his "favorites." Taylor did so, no questions asked. "She was just grateful to get rid of the data."

As for the drummer, there is a happy ending: Bodnar plans to present the ex-girlfriend, who's now his current girlfriend, with an engagement ring later this year. We'll be on the lookout for the YouTube video proposal...