Snooping on Your Mate: Finding the Truth or a Criminal Act?

Your instincts may tell you your partner's up to no good, but does your suspicion give you carte blanche to operate a home-based spy operation? Apparently, a lot of people think so. Thirty-six percent of married adults admitted to surreptitiously looking at a partner's texts or e-mails in a Retrevo.com study. A similar study by an Australian mobile phone provider showed that one-third of cell phone users read another's text messages without permission, with women more likely than men to snoop. Forty-five percent of the snoopers in the Australian study reported finding flirtatious or sexual texts. But there are downsides to snooping on a partner, whether it confirms a suspicion or not.

Snooping can be a relationship-killer. The act of snooping breaks trust in a relationship. California marriage therapist Jay Slupesky said in an MSNBC Redtape interview that therapy addresses a partner's concerns about infidelity more effectively than spying.

When snooping becomes active rather than passive, it may lead to legal complications. Audio-taping another person without consent is illegal in many jurisdictions. Not only will such tapes prove useless in divorce court, they may land the party who secretly created the tapes in legal hot water.

If a spouse discovers pornography and decides to print a copy, or transmit a copy to counsel, therapist or friend, that, too, can lead to legal troubles. Both possession and transmission of child pornography are prohibited under federal law, and someone accessing Internet porn has no means of verifying the age of the subject in the pornographic images.

Installing spy software involves murky legal issues, particularly where a computer is jointly owned property. Installing spyware on a computer belonging to someone else is illegal, but when it comes to family computers, the issue of ownership is often blurry. What one spouse considers private property may legally be marital property owned by the spouses in common and vice versa.

Understanding federal law and the laws in your state is essential to knowing your rights whether you are the spy or the spied-upon spouse. Before you start snooping for possible infidelities of your spouse, speak to an experienced attorney first. A lawyer can explain your rights and best options available to you under the law.