New York Lawsuit Accuses Parent of Obtaining Information to Use In Child Support Modification Case by Hacking

© User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia CommonsA lawsuit filed in a Manhattan federal court deals with what appears to be a highly contentious dispute between the parents of two children. The plaintiff in Kelleran v. Casey, who is the father of the children, alleges that the defendant accessed his laptop computer without his permission and “hacked” several online accounts, allegedly to obtain information to use against him in a child support modification proceeding. The case demonstrates how acrimonious family law cases can get, and it also raises important questions about how to modify child support orders and how to obtain evidence of another parent’s income.

The parties had two children before separating in 2005. A Brooklyn family court ordered the plaintiff to pay $2,000 per month to the defendant in child support in October 2005. The plaintiff does not state whether this order was the result of a settlement agreement or not, nor does he state whether or not he was in arrears on child support prior to the current dispute.

In May 2012, the plaintiff claims, he allowed his daughter to borrow his laptop computer for the weekend. During that time, the defendant allegedly accessed a file on the computer that contained a listing for a Manhattan apartment owned by the plaintiff’s brother. The plaintiff claims that the defendant used this information as the basis for a petition to modify child support filed in March 2013. He further claims that the petition contained false information about his finances.

The defendant allegedly accessed the plaintiff’s Charles Schwab online brokerage account without his knowledge or permission in June 2013, followed by his Google account on two occasions in September and October. The plaintiff claims that he learned about unauthorized access to his Google account in October 2013, but he did not know about the alleged hack of his Charles Schwab account until the defendant introduced documents from that account into evidence in family court in December 2013. The family court granted the defendant’s petition, allegedly based on the hacked documents. It increased child support to $2,954 per month and ordered the plaintiff to pay over $26,000 in child support arrears and $23,000 in attorney’s fees to the defendant.

The current lawsuit asserts civil causes of action under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Stored Communications Act. The alleged damages include the additional amounts the family court ordered him to pay, the attorney’s fees he incurred, and time lost investigating the hacks and restoring his accounts.

If the plaintiff’s allegations are at all true, it is certainly troubling that someone would resort to such measures to obtain information. That said, both sides of this story seem to present problems:

– In a child support modification proceeding, the defendant would have been legally entitled to much of the information she allegedly obtained through hacking. New York provides procedures for obtaining information and imposes penalties for failure to respond. It is not at all clear, based on the plaintiff’s complaint, if those procedures were ever used in this case.
– The damages claimed in the complaint are largely the result of a child support modification order. Federal courts lack jurisdiction to modify an order from a state family court. If the plaintiff could prove his case, the court still might not be able to do much in the way of damages, since it cannot undo the child support order.

Family law disputes, including divorce, custody, and child support, present a near-infinite set of legal and emotional challenges. For the past 30 years, child support lawyer Ingrid Gherman has represented clients in the greater New York City area, helping them deal with difficult and complicated questions. To schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced and skilled advocate, contact us today online or at (212) 941-0767.

More Blog Posts:

Calculating Child Support Obligations in New York Divorce Cases, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, October 12, 2015

VA Benefits and Divorce in New York: What You Should Know, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, July 1, 2015

Emancipation May Release a Parent from a Child Support Obligation Under New York Law, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, May 4, 2015

Photo credit: ©User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons