Can I Obtain Cell Phone Records or Text Messages in a Divorce in Wisconsin? – Update 2015

woman hand holding the phone with sms chat on screenAs an update to our 2012 blog titled “Can I Obtain Cell Phone Records or Text Messages in a Divorce in Wisconsin?” we reached out to three major cell phone providers to find out the current policy on obtaining text messages and cell phone records.

For cell phone records and text message logs (i.e. name, number, and time the call or text was sent/received), the process to obtain them from the phone carrier is relatively easy, which is similar to what we found in 2012 (please see above link). However, just as in 2012, obtaining the actual text message content remains more complicated.

Two of the three providers indicate that they do not maintain any text message content in their records. The two providers that do not save any of the content indicate that there are other ways for clients to save their text message content on their own. For example, clients can synchronize e-mail accounts to their cell phone number and set up an archive of text messages. Or, they can save their text messages on the cloud if they sign up for a certain type of messaging.  But, if you are trying to obtain the text messages of the other party through these providers, you will not be able to do so.

However, through at least one of the major providers, this information can be obtained through your personal online account at the click of a button. For this provider, that content is available for 3-5 days typically and up to 10 days at maximum. There is an automatic purge of the messages after 10 days. In addition, this company does accept preservation letters (to allow you to preserve past texts of yourself or the other party), but it comes at the cost of $50 for every 5-day increment requested. Further, you cannot request “future” preservation of text messages. That is considered surveillance, if not done through the appropriate legal channels. If you wish to have a more expansive release of text content, a judge would have to sign a subpoena and the company would have to receive consent (in writing) from the user of the phone. Both of these documents have to be received in order to do a continuing preservation of texts. There is no specific form that you must send to request preservation of texts, but it must include the telephone number, dates and specific records being requested, and a return address for the information.

Overall, the message remains the same: if you wish to save the content of text messages you need to be proactive and take action to save them yourself (i.e. take a screen shot and e-mail it to yourself). You should operate under the notion of “once they are gone, they are gone,” unless you have the rare case where you have the proper permissions to obtain them. To find out exactly what your carrier offers in regard to preserving text message content you would have to contact your carrier’s legal department.

Also, as we previously stated in 2012, text messages in Wisconsin would have very little value or relevance in a divorce as Wisconsin is a no fault state. This may be different in other states, however.

If you find yourself in a family law dispute where this issue may be relevant, please contact our office at 414-258-1644 to scheduled your free initial office consultation or visit our website for more information.

Can I Obtain Cell Phone Records or Text Messages in a Divorce in Wisconsin?

When people suspect that their spouse is cheating, they often ask if we can obtain their cell phone records to prove it.

If you are looking for documentation regarding telephone calls, this is readily available via subpoena but meaningless.  A phone call proves nothing.  However, now we are seeing more requests to obtain copies of text messages.  While it seems like this would be a simple task involving a subpoena and a small fee, the truth is that it is nearly impossible to preserve and obtain text messages directly from the carrier.

You may be able to get a log or history of text messaging details (date, time, number) fairly easily. However, most carriers only save the content of text messages for a period of 48-72 hours.  After this time, the text messages are forever purged from the server or database.  The amount of storage required to save every text message sent from every cell phone user prohibits retention of these messages for more than a short period of time.  In order for the carrier to save messages for more than their specified period, they need to be aware of the requirement to preserve the messages.  Every carrier differs in their expectation, but to save messages it requires that an attorney send a preservation letter to the carrier.  This preservation letter informs the carrier that it is necessary for them to retain the messages for greater than a 48-72 hour period.  Most carriers will only “preserve” the messages for two weeks.  If it is necessary to preserve texts for a longer period of time, numerous preservation letters are required.  Some carriers will honor preservation letters sent from an attorney.  Other carriers require a subpoena issued or signed by a judge or court official.  You would have to contact your carrier’s legal department on their requirements for preserving and certifying text messages.

A subpoena of text messages requires a proactive approach which, depending on your reasons for the text messages, may prove to be cost prohibitive or irrelevant.   The question then becomes, why do you want these records?  In Wisconsin, we have a no fault state.  It is completely irrelevant in a divorce that your spouse was cheating in your case.

If you suspect your spouse is cheating, the appropriate response is to confront your spouse and/or get into counseling, either individual or marital, immediately.  If counseling does not work or is not an option, then you need to consider whether you want to file for divorce.  If you file for divorce, you need to accept that Wisconsin is a no fault state and move on to the issues in your case rather than focus on adultery or alleged adultery which is not going to be relevant in your case.  Focus on making sure you that you and your children are protected in your divorce and that you obtain the best possible result for yourself.  Hire an experienced divorce attorney to assist you in this.

To discuss a divorce in Wisconsin, contact our office at 414-258-1644 to scheduled your free initial office consultation or visit our website for more information.