My ex hacked my email, what legal action can I take? (UK)

When couples separate, they naturally tend to focus on macro issues, such as the family home, finances, and arrangements for the children. This is when the micro issues such as changing security settings on devices or passwords can become lost in the noise. You may even have actively shared these details with your spouse when you were together. But what if they decide to misuse their knowledge? Is it an offence to “hack” into your email, and should you report it as a crime? Should it affect contact with the children and can any information they find be used against you? This article answers these questions and more.

If you have a family law issue and you require legal advice to understand your options, contact specialist family law solicitor Vicki Rawlins. Vicki is a trusted and highly capable family lawyer and divorce solicitor and a Partner at the specialist family law firm, Stowe Family Law.

What constitutes “hacking” and is it illegal for my ex to access my emails?

Hacking is the interception of another’s email account or other devices and private social media accounts without their consent. The law states that someone has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in relation to their private communications. Therefore, under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, any interception by another party without consent is almost always illegal; this includes friends, family members, or romantic partners.

Further offences may apply if an ex-spouse removes or copy’s explicit images from an account and posts or distributes them online. Such behaviour can lead to “revenge porn” charges. It is also illegal to make changes to any data stored on a device or computer without permission. For example, if your ex accessed and altered the contents of your email addresses, or contents of other files without your permission, they will be committing an offence. This includes installing a virus or other malware which damages or changes the way the device or computer works.

If you believe your ex has accessed your account, however this has come about, then you should report it to the police for them to investigate further. The maximum penalty for breaking the law is a £5,000 fine or a term of imprisonment. It is also important to note that aside from criminal charges, anyone found to be illegally using or accessing another’s data could face civil proceedings, such as payment of damages or injunctions.

Can my ex use hacked emails against me in the divorce?

Some people try to claim they hacked into their ex’s emails because they believed their spouse was hiding something vital to the case. It is extremely unlikely the court would admit any emails into evidence because they will have been obtained illegally. Whether or not your ex finds anything useful, all that is likely to happen is that they will anger the judge and harm their own case.

If the evidence was obtained illegally, then you could use it to prove that your ex had accessed your email account. After all, how else would they have come across such information? This could be used to support your hacking claims and show that the other party has been untruthful or has attempted to deceive the court.

Does hacking my emails affect my ex’s contact with our children?

Child arrangements are primarily governed by considering what is in the best interests of the child, and the fact that your ex-partner hacked your email account can, at the very least, be considered a breach of your privacy. But it may not be a direct factor in determining their contact with the children.

Child contact decisions are typically based on factors such as the child’s welfare, their emotional and physical needs, and the ability of each parent to provide a stable and nurturing environment. So hacking an email account, although a serious matter, may not directly impact their ability to be a responsible and caring parent.

If you believe that your ex’s actions have put your children’s well-being at risk, it is crucial to collate evidence and seek advice from a legal professional to address the issue appropriately. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the court will prioritise the children’s best interests when making child arrangement decisions, and unrelated actions, such as email hacking, may not carry significant weight unless they directly affect the child’s welfare.


What can I do to protect myself against “revenge hacking”?

If you are separating and planning to get divorced, you should consider changing your email passwords as soon as possible in order to prevent your ex from gaining access to your accounts. Ex’s who stoop to hacking are often keen to find emails from solicitors containing advice on the divorce or financial settlement or because they believe income or assets are being hidden. The biggest vulnerability for email and other accounts is that most people are reluctant to change passwords and are resistant or resentful of being forced into doing so.

Here are some tips to help protect your email account:

  • Never use the same password for your email account and any other important sites you visit or have passwords for. If your ex gains access to your email using a frequently used password, they may also be able to get into your bank, credit card, or other important accounts.
  • Ensure you use unique passwords for each account. This sounds onerous, however, most devices have a password keychain function that generates and saves passwords for each account.
  • Make your passwords difficult to crack. Include letters, capitals, numbers, and symbols. Again, using the keychain function can help provide strong passwords.
  • Avoid using family member’s birthdays, pets names, your address, or anything else that someone who knows you could guess.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication. This security measure allows you to log on to a specific site and then sends a code to your nominated number. You then enter the code to gain access to the site. Although this adds an extra step to logging into an account, it also provides an additional layer of protection.

Always remember that hacking, however it happens, is a serious offence and can have severe legal consequence both on a criminal and civil level. If you are separating or divorcing, you should use our tips above to protect yourself and your information.

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