Redmond, OR asked in Divorce and Communications Law for Oregon

Q: Is it legal to put a GPS tracker in your abusive husband's car?

I have filed for a divorce, but he is still living here, and has been drinking heavily. I wanted to make sure I knew when he had been to a liquor store, so I could know if I needed to leave with my kids before he got home. He is hitting the liquor store pretty much every day, and has even been there on his lunch hour. I want to be able to use the tracking information during the divorce proceedings if I can. The tracking device is plugged into his car under the steering column and is visible, but he does not know it is there.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Joanne Reisman
Joanne Reisman
  • Portland, OR
  • Licensed in Oregon

A: If you own the car you can put a tracking device on it. If the car is in your husband's name only then you may have problems. I am not sure what the law is about this but I suspect there is something that prevents you from using electronic devises to spy on people outside your own property lines. But what is really at stake here is whether the evidence would be admissible and if admissible what value would it have in terms of being relevant to your divorce case.

The only issue in your case that would be effected by evidence of your husband's alcoholism would be custody and parenting time. Otherwise there is no relevance to other issues such as whether you can get a divorce (you don't need to prove fault in Oregon to get divorced) or property division (his drinking has little if no relevance to how your property and debts will be divided). So getting back to the custody parenting time issues - I am sure you have plenty of evidence as to your husband's alcoholism without needed to track his car. You can show his liquor purchases through his financial records - you can get copies of bank statements to show debit card purchases and you can get copies of his credit card statements. If he goes to a particular liquor store all the time and the people working there have gotten to know him as a regular, you could subpoena one of them to come to court and testify. You, yourself can testify to what your life has been like living with him and frankly it is his behavior when he as been drinking that the court will be interested in hearing about and you are the best person to discuss this. His driving record will not show the court what is post drinking behavior is like but you can testify based on your first hand experience. Hopefully your children won't be used as witnesses but there are indirect ways to show how your husband's drinking effects your children by having them evaluated by a psychologist or therapist who can then testify. You can also make a list of friends, co-workers, and family members that would testify as to your husbands behavior.

Bottom line, I don't think you need this evidence to establish that you should have custody and severe limits need to be placed on your husband's ability to visit with his children while he is still abusing alcohol. As for you leaving every day when you think your husband is coming home drunk or to drink, you can't keep living like this and subjecting your children to this life style. If your husband's drinking comes with violent, threatening behavior you might qualify to get a Family Abuse Restraining Order which will remove your husband from the house and give you temporary custody. Once this occurs, you can go to the local district attorney's office and apply for child support, even if you are still legally married.

If the situation is not such that you could get a family abuse restraining order, consult with an attorney and figure out your other options. I would take steps to get out of this relationship as soon as you can.

I hope that you aren't spying on your husband with the hope that you can confront him with his behavior and that will make him change. Alcoholism is a disease and my experience is that the person with the disease won't make permanent changes until they reach some crisis in their life that makes them really want to change. When confronted with consequences such as you saying "change or else I will leave you and take the children" they may change temporarily but it won't last. If the person commits to a treatment program, preferably in-patient, then the chances of long term commitment improve, but even then recidivism is common so you need to be very cautious with how you make plans with someone who is trying to get treatment and lead a clean and sober life. Be supportive but don't assume the problem has been permanently fixed. I highly recommend

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