Dear Margo: Cheating and the Computer

Margo Howard’s advice

Cheating and the Computer

Dear Margo: A reader of yours recommended installing monitoring software on a spouse’s computer. I am a computer tech, and I can tell you that installing monitoring software or key loggers on another person’s computer without their knowledge or consent violates federal law and possibly state laws, as well. The federal government has enacted laws that make it illegal to covertly intercept electronic information. The United States Code, title 18, states that interception of wire and electronic communications is illegal. This means that using a key logger in order to spy on one’s spouse is a violation of federal law. Furthermore, state regulations may carry additional penalties for those who use key loggers on unsuspecting people.

In order to install a monitoring application, you must be the owner of the computer, or obtain the consent of all the users of the monitored machine. Parents can legally install the software on their minor child’s computer. (Covert computer monitoring of a child over the age of 18 is illegal.) When installed on a computer that does not meet the above criteria, monitoring software technically becomes spyware. Spyware is illegal. — Ken

Dear Ken: Thanks for the info. I do not mean to be a scofflaw, but if a woman catches her husband (or vice versa) getting up to no good on the computer (a not infrequent occurrence), my guess is that the spouse who’s caught is not going to respond to this situation by bringing charges for employing spyware. Just sayin’. — Margo, intuitively

Judgmental Family Members

Dear Margo: I’m the oldest of three, all of us in our early to mid-30s. My brothers and I went through varying degrees of closeness growing up, but as adults, we didn’t really stay friends. When I got married at 20, my husband enjoyed my brothers’ company, and in fact, the three of them often ganged up on me, leaving me alone with our young kids.

Fast-forward 15 years: My husband and I were struggling in our marriage. There were plenty of issues, but the catalyst was when I had an affair. Finally, my husband decided he wanted to fix our marriage, but by this time I was emotionally done. We divorced, and although things were difficult at first, we developed an amicable relationship and are co-parenting our kids and doing fine. We’re each dating someone else. (I am seeing the man I had the affair with, who also divorced).

My brothers stopped talking to me upon learning of my infidelity. Since then, one of them eased up a bit at Christmas, but refused to allow me in his home at Easter. My other brother responded to a written apology with a scathing response that made it clear that family doesn’t come first. Even my ex is frustrated with them. He says he doesn’t understand what exactly I did to them, and he’s glad he has his family, who stand behind a member no matter what.

My parents are upset and trying to stay out of it, but I feel awful for them. I understand that what I did was wrong — believe me — and have dealt with the consequences. I didn’t have enough of a relationship with the brothers before to make me really miss them now, but I want things to at least be civil at family gatherings. Suggestions? — RB

Dear R: Are your bothers Puritans, or Afghans? You really have done nothing to harm them, and their self-righteousness is deplorable. There is nothing for you to do except be a lady. At the next family gathering, be cordial, and if they make it uncomfortable for you, do consider seeing your parents at other times. I see no reason for you to wear the scarlet “A” in this day and age, and I think the brothers sound odd. If your parents can’t shape them up, then make your friends your family. — Margo, forwardly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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45 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#2: It makes me wonder how the brothers found out? Did your husband go to them and say: We broke up because your sister cheated on me! What was he trying to achieve by that?
    That’s something you confide to your closest friends, not your spouse’s family.
    The only thing that was meant to do was to punish you by driving a wedge between you and your family and to win people over to his side of the ‘argument’. Extremely immature.
    It was especially nice of him to throw in a jab about his family always being there for him no matter what though.

    Your brothers are playing the holier-than-thou card and basically told you that they value his friendship over you. If that be the case, then let them go. No use hanging around to play the role of black sheep in the family.

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      Except that her ex-husband is as frustrated with her brothers as she is.

      I’m with you on avoiding the whole mess, though. Her brothers are behaving like jerks and her parents are enabling them. Thankfully relations with her ex are civilized. DNA does not make family.

    • avatar Rachele Brown says:

      Yes, he did go to them and tell them what happened. He’s apologized since.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      He may be frustrated for her, but that doesn’t really do her any good. Although there was no excuse for her behavior, he’s the one that was the cause of the damaged relationship with her brothers by running and crying to _her_ entire family instead of his own.

      I really have no respect people that tear families apart by trying to get everyone on their side and throw a pity party when they feel they’ve been wronged.

  2. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – ” my guess is that the spouse who’s caught is not going to respond to this situation by bringing charges for employing spyware. Just sayin’.”  Stranger things have happened, Margo.  Besides that, if one is ever to the point of employing spyware technology on a spouse then just call it a day and be done with it.  

    LW2 – Install spyware on their computers and did up some dirt on them that you can use at the next family gathering ………oh wait

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      LW1: That would be fine if the spouse can prove that it’s a piece of equipment that belongs to them and solely them. If the computer were bought as a household item, with shared funds, or the owner gave the spouse any sort of permission whatsoever to use the computer—your little law is null and void.

      LW2: I think you shouldn’t worry about what you’ve never really had. And trust me—most men of both persuasions have fooled around on their sig-o.

      • avatar Messy ONE says:

        Except that by law, all of the users must be informed about the spyware.

        If a divorce gets ugly, I can see charges being pursued, and even if nothing comes of it, the attendant hassle and expense just aren’t worth it.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          Except that in practice most spyware is installed surreptitiously by a third party and neither user knows about it. This is a non-problem—if it’s a shared computer, which the vast majority of situations like this will represent, both users can install whatever they like without informing the other. And unless the spouse were found guilty of installing something malicious or destructive with the purpose of destroying work files or personal files on a private computer, no judge is going to bother with this. Especially since it’s most likely understood that the couple has a prior contract (both verbal and written, with their marriage decree) and that unless the spouses have given each other express permission to seek companionship outside the marriage—all devices such as computers and cellphones will not be used to violate an existing agreement.

          • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

            No accurate. I have dealt with these issues before. While the likelihood of charges is probably pretty low, your advice is inaccurate and has the potential to get someone into serious trouble.

          • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

            Not accurate I mean.

      • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

        This is not accurate David regarding the law. The major problem is that you will likely catch them logging into private email accounts and other accounts to which the other person has no access. That is a clear violation of the law. Being a shared computer will not save the person.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          Sure. Whatever. Go enjoy your victory cake in the breakroom.

          • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

            When you are done throwing a fit because of your response laden with ignorance, you can join me.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            My response is about as ignorant as yours. In some states it is illegal. In other states, it is not and has been used to set court precedents for admissibility of evidence such as emails—private or not.

          • avatar Lym BO says:

            A friend of mine who is a lawyer did this to his wife. There was no trouble for him that came from it during the divorce. Indiana 2006

    • avatar R Scott says:

      I still contend that if one is contemplating spyware in a relationship then it’s done. Somebody say Amen! … somebody…anyone?    okay   

  3. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – ROFL! 🙂

    Margo’s response was EXACTLY what I was thinking. Although I applaud the writer for being so thorough in terms of educating us about privacy laws, this isn’t an area where it is applicable.

    If a partner snoops and finds nothing, they aren’t going to fess up they snooped. If they do snoop and find something, as Margo pointed out the cheater isn’t going to make a fuss about it unless they are a loon or something. And even if they did, I doubt any judge would take it seriously. I advocate for women and men to use surveillance when they suspect their partner may be cheating. It usually means the end of a relationship when the trust is gone and you have to resort to this type of thing but….better to know now than be left wondering.

    Letter #2 – I get where the brothers are coming from – from the standpoint of being hurt and disappointment in seeing someone they love make such a deep and hurtful life mistake such as infidelity. The normal human response by MOST people when they hear of a parent, sibling or close friend that ends a marriage due to cheating is not “Oh well sucks to be you…..pass me the butter please…”

    The natural response is to feel badly for them. Knowing they have hurt their relationship and used poor judgement. But….and here is the big but….it’s not their (the brothers) life. I have been there where I had to stand by and watch people I love pick up the pieces of their lives after they made big mistakes, and try to ignore that and continue as if nothing happened. Its a hard thing to do, but it has to be done. Just as I will make mistakes and still want people that love me to be understanding I’m not perfect, so too do these brothers. I doubt that their closets are empty. Surly they have skeletons.

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      Why do people think that no judge will take it seriously? Do you have experience in this field where judges don’t take the law seriously? Is it worth the risk that a judge will take it seriously when you could find yourself in state or federal court on a felony charge?

      Also, people try to use this against the other person all the time. If the couple tries to stay together, then it might be forgotten. But if it leads to a break-up or divorce, you can bet that it is coming out.

      • avatar KL says:

        It’s not even so much the judge you have to worry about, but the local prosecutor. Most prosecutors aren’t going to touch this because they have bigger things to deal with. And if it’s a shared computer, there is a strong argument that there is no expectation of privacy with the spouse. So, unless it’s a really odd jurisdiction with a moronic or overzealous prosecutor that’s trying to make an example of someone — it’s not going to be a problem realistically speaking.

        Now, if the snooping leads to further crimes — i.e. the spouse assaults or kills the other (or his/her lover), then it may become an issue. But on its own, highly unlikely.

        • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

          I understand that prosecutorial discretion probably plays a larger role here, but my post was responsive to one about what a judge would do.

          The shared computer argument does not work when dealing with things like private email accounts. Even on a shared computer, there generally is a password protected feature. By getting around that, you are intercepting electronic communications without the consent of the email account holder.

          I also think you are taking this too lightly. Prosecutors pursue matters as trivial as this every day. Further, in the event of a divorce, you may have attorney(s) contacting the prosecutor to pursue this type of conduct. Prosecutors are less likely to ignore something like that if contacted by an attorney and provided with evidence of the crime. At least in my state, if a prosecutor chose not to pursue it, a private criminal complaint could be filed with the court.

          • avatar Belinda Joy says:

            I often say that we each have a difference of opinions, so on threads of conversation like this, I tend to take that into consideration.

            However there are also those instances when people are simply wrong. It’s as if we are both looking at an orange and you say it is pink and I say it is orange, you can say it is pink all you want but the truth is IT IS colored orange. You are wrong on everything you have said.

            This SHOULD be taken and spoke of lightly because you are WRONG when you say courts are arguing cases like this everyday. Let me qualify that, yes they do, but on a very small and insignificant level.

            The discussion is about a husband and wife possibly coming across compromising information found on a computer. If you honestly think courts are arguing cases like this on a daily basis all over our nation, you are woefully ill informed. Privacy issues between employees vs. employers, neighbors, stalkers….yes. But between a spouse that catches a partner cheating….no. “My wife read my emails and found out I was cheating on her…she violated my rights your honor!” You are nuts if you think the courts are spending their time litigating suits like that. And you are REALLY ill informed if you think a divorce attorney is going to suggest they follow through on submitting that evidence into their case with the family courts.

  4. avatar judgingamy says:

    Am I to understand that LW2 sent a written apology to HER BROTHER over the affair? There are some screwed up family dynamics in play here. I can understand her brothers being mad at her for cheating on their friend- I felt the same way when my brother cheated on then ultimately left his wife. But I did not expect a written apology from him to me and I certainly never barred him from family functions. Seems to me LW2 is better off without these men in her life, and shame on their parents for not standing up for their daughter being bullied.

    • avatar D C says:

      I have 3 brothers, and my mother and father never stood up for me.  But then, my father was a neanderthal and raised his sons to be the same way.  Women were for cooking and cleaning and screwing.  My father died over 30 years ago.  My mom died on ’02 and I have not seen or communicated with my brothers since the funeral.  I have kept in touch slightly with one of their wives because I really like her, but they live a very long way away and she no longer has family in my town so what little communication we have is through facebook. 

      LW#2 — it’s OK to walk away from your blood family, especially when they seemingly turned their backs on you first. 

  5. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1) Ken, I’ll bet you’re a riot at parties, and even more of a hoot on blind dates, what with your discourse on United States Code, Title 18.

    LW2) No brothers at all would be better than the pair you were dealt. Be civil, but stop trying to engage them in anything other than hello, how are you, and goodbye. How are the brothers’ spouses treating you?   If they are shunning you as well, focus on catching up with your parents who won’t always be around in decades to come.  Congratulations on the co-parenting relationship you have with your ex — who sounds like he could be a brother.  

  6. avatar bobkat says:

    LW1: I’m aware of at least one case where a spouse brought charges against her spouse for installing spyware on her computer without her knowlege. So yes, it happens. If you feel you must constantly monitor your spouse, then the marriage is over.

  7. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Right on, Margo. 🙂

    L #2: I wonder if either of your brothers would consequence the other in the same manner, if it’d been one of them. Are they sexist? Is it “wronger” if a woman does whatever? So they had a very close relationship with your ex-husband, who has since maintained an amicable relationship with you and apparently has moved on. They can’t? I wouldn’t feel obligated to try and make further inroads with your brothers; they’ll probably want to see it as your feeling guilty, and withholding their “good graces” likely gives them a self-righteous ego boost. Apparently you have tried…and this is their answer. I’d leave the matter alone (easier said than done). Next family gathering let them approach you; and if they don’t it’s *their* problem. The situation was between you and your ex-husband; not them. Give it a few years, maybe you’ll learn something about them which will make them seem a lot less righteous.

    • avatar luna midden says:

      Maybe they are hurt, really hurt too, after all, they lost their BESTEST BUD!! I remember when I was younger, very younger, that guys would be APPALLED if the GF cheated!! The guy, well he’s a guy! But the Girl, when then she’s a _____ (fill in the blank). They considered the BIL like a best friend and she cheated on their best Friend. And unfortunately, their reaction shows that 
      #1-their loyalty is sorely misplaced if what she writes is all true.
      #2 They are extremey IMMATURE -acting like HS, teenagers, etc. not ADULTS WITH FAMILIES!
      #3 They are acting like they HAD to make choices, pick one .. there was no reason to, This was not a case of abuse. The former BIL was the one hurt upon, but they still co parent, still talk to each other.

      Now, as for the parents, While I understand they are hurt, cannot open the doors of their sons’ homes, they can tell them what IMMATURE BRATTY A-HOLES they really are and THEY ARE BREAKING UP THE FAMILY , not this LW. and BOO HOO -you think you lost your playmate, but YOU ARE 30+. Friendships change, come and go. GET OVER IT!!!!!

      (WHAT WOULD BE GREAT TO KNOW IS IF THEY (the brothers)TREAT EVERY DIVORCED PERSON LIKE THIS-doubt it! they would be offending too many people.. getting fired, etc. UNLESS… and there is no mention of it-that this is an AMISH FAMILY? or like Margo said-some severe Mid Eastern Family that kills daughters who are killed for disobeying…)           

  8. avatar Zukeeper says:

    LW1 does have a point. If you are looking to just to confirm suspicions that your spouse or significant other is cheating, that’s one thing. (Of course, at that point the trust is so far gone you might as well give up on the relationship anyway).

    But if you are trying to dig up dirt to use in divorce proceedings, stop now. In most cases the info is gained illegally, so it won’t be allowed in court. Unless you can back up your claim that he has a hidden bank account or that he’s been funneling money to his bit on the side, with some other proof, you’re not going to get anywhere with only spyware evidence.

  9. avatar shazzanorth says:

    LW1: Why are folks belittling someone who is just presenting information? Granted if you are monitoring for cheating, it is probably too late. But if the spy is looking to use the information as evidence of parental fitness in a child custody battle, he or she should know the legality of presenting that to a judge.

  10. avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

    Margo’s advice to LW1 does not make much sense. If a partner is cheating and the other partner finds out, there is a pretty decent chance the relationship is going to end. When the relationship ends, usually badly too after infidelity, all of these things will usually come out. With particularly vindictive people (you mean divorces don’t get nasty), charges might be brought. Why risk it? Regardless, talk to an attorney first before you do this rather than listen to Margo.

  11. avatar Pinky35 says:

    My view on LW1’s comment about the law for installing spywear is that if a spouse feels the need to spy on his/her significant other, that person has serious trust issues. Instead of installing spywear to do the dirty work, you need to confront the person directly or just simply end the marriage. There should be no reason to sneak behind someone’s back to find out what they are doing. If you don’t trust the person you married that your marriage is in serious trouble. Period!

    LW2, your brothers are totally out of line. They should not be punishing you like this. And if your ex was really as buddy buddy with them as you say, then my guess is that he bad mouthed you a lot to them when you two were going through your divorce. I think he is to blame for the way your brothers are treating you. Sure, he may say to your face that he thinks your brothers are out of line now, but that’s only to save face. He probably feels guilty about taking so much trash about you to them now that you are getting along. So, I think you need to call your ex out on this. And then for the brothers, stand up to them. Tell them that while you made a mistake, you shouldn’t be punished for the rest of your life for it. So, if they can’t get over it, then it’s their problem. You and your ex are co-parenting and doing what needs to be done for your kids. If they can’t accept reality then they are truly out of touch with it. Then, do your best to be civil with them at family gatherings and then ignore any nasty comments they may say. Eventually, they will have to give up being asses and move on. And if they can’t, chose your friends as your family instead. No need to keep beating up yourself over a mistake.

  12. avatar Allaroundtheworld says:

    Instead of using spyware, which is illegal without a written consent and any information found will be thrown out of court, it would be better to just hire a private investigator who KNOWS the laws on survellance and such things. I use to work for a law firm, and I’ve seen many women who have secretly recorded their husbands and mistress and the recordings were thrown out and the women ended up looking worst in the divorce. But those women who hired a registered and bonded priviate eye were able to use that information because the PI followed the law.  Yes it’s hurtful to be cheated on and yes you want to do what ever you can to get back at them, but think with your brain and not your emotions so when you do finally file for divorce you have USABLE  evidence that the courts can and will use. You don’t want to look like a crazy person infront of a judge because they will follow the law, not your hurting heart. Just another view from someone who has seen it from the court house steps.

  13. avatar lebucher says:

    I wonder when surreptitious spyware became illegal.  My ex put it on my computer and gathered my passwords and logged into my bank account and email accounts, read my emails and even sent out an email disguised as me.

    All that happened 10 years ago.  I talked to a local sheriff deputy at the time, who said as long as he didn’t actually TAKE any money out of my bank account, I couldn’t do anything about it.  

  14. avatar fallinginplace says:

    Not that I’m defending spyware, but I think LW1 is misinformed.  There is no federal law prohibiting the use of spyware.   Congress tried a couple of times to pass some, but they have not succeeded.  A number of states do have anti-spyware laws, though, including mine.  And in those states, it is indeed a crime to install spyware on a shared computer without the consent of all users, no matter how cranky that may make David Bolton.

  15. avatar fallinginplace says:

    Not that I’m defending spyware, but I think LW1 is misinformed.  There is no federal law prohibiting the use of spyware.   Congress tried a couple of times to pass some, but they have not succeeded.  A number of states do have anti-spyware laws, though, including mine.  And in those states, it is indeed a crime to install spyware on a shared computer without the consent of all users, no matter how cranky that may make David Bolton.

  16. avatar Miss Lee says:

    LTR # 1, I would agree with Margo except that legalities do matter in some complicated divorce cases where child custody and wealth are involved.  What you might find out will probably do you no good in court proceedings.  I agree with the commentors who state that if you have reached this point, take the high road and file for divorce.  There is life after divorce and, often, a much better life when you aren’t always having to monitor a spouse’s questionable activities – I speak from ecperience.

    Ltr # 2,  I feel really bad for their parents.  I have friends whose children are involved in disputes that make it impossible to have holiday gatherings.  They are the real losers in this battle.  There have been times when I would have been pleased to have nothing to do with my brother but for what it would do to my mother, I have bit my lip and smiled.  I am not glad that I did because he is much better these days. 

  17. avatar americanabroad says:

    Am I the only one who takes exception to Margo’s derogatory generalization about Afghans?

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      I know about Afghans so didn’t understand if it was a dig or an observation. Some cultures and religions have codes of ethics we don’t agree with… Please explain what she meant.

  18. avatar Teresa says:

    LW #2 sounds like she’s been caught in a situation where her brothers felt much closer to her ex-husband than her, and they took her cheating on him as a personal affront and unlike the ex, are not willing to forgive. So now they are rallying in support of their “bro” and she’s being treated like a – well, “ho.”

    Does LW#2 by some chance live in the south?

  19. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW2; Your infidelity did one of two things to your brothers. Either they are now leery of their spouses (and everyone else) since they never suspected something like this could happen in their ranks. Or the second is they are cheating themselves & they are annoyed your situation has increased the suspicion their wives may have about their daily activities.
    I’ve listened to people over the years totally beat up on someone verbally about an affair only to find out later they were doing the same. Nothing like drawing attention to someone else to elude suspicion from oneself.

  20. avatar Lym BO says:

    :ganged up on me, leaving me alone with our young kids” I’d like more explanation on this one. Hubby was a jerk who felt it was okay to go out all time with his “friends” while you stayed home. Or hubby occasionally had a guys night out & you’re harboring resentment towards he & your brothers. Regardless of what your brothers said to hubby he could’ve refused to go and stayed home to support you. It is was occasional then he should have returned the favor. ANd here begins your problems.