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How shopping habits affect alimony, child custody settlements

Arizona residents may have heard or read the recent news reports that revealed a surprising method that some retailers are using to cull consumer information and design advertising campaigns. The reports raise red flags related to ethical and privacy concerns, but they should also be a warning for anyone who is going through divorce proceedings.

According to the story, originally reported in the New York Times, a company named Big Data collects consumer information from stores including Target and Costco in order to study consumers' shopping habits. Evidently, these stores can track whether someone is engaged, expecting a baby or going through a divorce among other life-changing events. Many have suggested that this type of data could also be used against a person who is involved in a family law dispute.

According to a recent report, a former spouse may be able to subpoena retailers to garner information about purchases you have made. Of course, the courts would have to grant the discovery order, but if so the retailers would be required to turn over the data.

These patterns of consumption could then be used as fodder for alimony and child support arguments. For example, if a former spouse is spending a considerably large amount of money on clothing, the court may question his or her need for alimony. Or, perhaps one parent is spending a great deal on alcohol and this information could be used in determining a child custody arrangement.

Just as it is important for those who are in the midst of a divorce to be prudent about their public social media profiles, it may also be important to review one's consumption habits. Is there anything about your retail habits that would appear damaging in front of a judge?

Many people will argue that Americans should not have to live in fear of retailers revealing what many hold to be private information, and that may be true. But, it may nonetheless be important for anyone in the middle of a family law dispute to take steps to protect oneself from racking up potentially negative consumer data.

Source: Huffington Post Divorce, "Divorce Meets Big Data," Richard Komaiko, Mar. 2, 2012

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