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Tue, Dec 15, 2009
The New Paper
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‘People just can’t help themselves’
by Ho Lian-Yi

HIS wife had been cheating on him with three men.

But Aaron (not his real name), 43, a media professional, did not suspect a thing – until one night when he was woken up by the beep of a handphone.

It was 3am. Drowsy from sleep, he reached out to what he thought was his handphone – and was stunned when he saw the message.

It read, “hope you are sleeping well?”

He quickly realised the message was not meant for him. It was his wife’s handphone, which was the same model.

That was what first aroused his suspicions – the incriminating text message, the new “lipstick on the collar”, as a New York Times report on the Tiger Woods sex saga called it.

This was after one of the alleged lovers, California cocktail waitress Jaimee Grubbs, 24, released sexy SMSes exchanged between herself and Woods, 33.

Woods was not the only man whose cheating ways were exposed via SMS.

Indeed the American Bar Association has already begun offering seminars to marital lawyers on how to use electronic evidence to prove a case.

In Singapore, lawyers say that they have seen an increase in the number of cases where electronic evidence, like SMSes, e-mails and other online correspondences, are used as proof in court.

Referring to the frequency with which such evidence is used in court, lawyer Tan Siew Kim, who has 16 years of experience in divorce cases, said: “I would say at least five or six cases out of 10.”

The director of Wong Tan & Molly Lim LLC said that she frequently uses SMSes to prove certain points.

While these may not in themselves prove adultery, they can demonstrate an “improper association” (divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour).

But are people aware that their flirty SMSes could bite them in divorce court?

“I’m sure people are aware, but they can’t help themselves,” she said.

Divorce lawyer Malathi Das said it is a case of the law keeping up with the times.

“The reality is, these days, text messages and e-mails are THE mode of communication. They’re overtaking your land line, letters, and replacing those modes of communication,” she said.

While the other party may dispute the evidence, there are ways to authenticate the claims, she said.

For example, a person may claim that SMSes were sent by someone else using the phone.

But that would not be likely if there was a whole series of messages.

Mr Yap Teong Liang, a family lawyer for 19 years, said proof may even be found through Facebook, though he has yet to use such evidence in court.

But, as NYT reported, what is more common is “suspicion followed up by confrontation”.

In some cases, people seek the help of professional investigators.

Mr S M Jegan, 56, managing director of Kokusai Security, said: “Almost every client tells me about SMSes.”

But he warned that sometimes a flirty SMS may not mean a couple is having an affair.

More concrete proof

“Sometimes the man and woman, when they’re bored, they start sending messages to each other. It may just be rubbish, they may not be involved, they may be good friends,” he said.

“They may send intimate messages for the fun of it. You can’t conclude that there is something happening. They can be just playing the fool.”

Mr Lionel De Souza, of LJ Investigations and Consultancy Services, said: “I would say such messages are helpful in a way, in that it starts the cycle of investigation.”

The information from an SMS may lead to more concrete proof, like photographs or videos, using good old-fashioned detective work, he said.

But he warned that accessing data from someone else’s handphone or computer without permission is illegal. (See report on opposite page.)

For Aaron, he decided to give his wife – a doctor – the benefit of the doubt.

But after she repeatedly told him she had to stay in hospital after duty, he finally confronted her.

She then admitted that she had been having several affairs behind his back.

They divorced after being married for three years.

Straying spouses being caught red-handed by text messages is as old as the technology itself.

Aaron’s case, for example, happened eight years ago.


This article was first published in The New Paper.


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