Tapping a telephone is easy.

The equipment, a tape recorder and telephone recording device, is available at Best Buy or Amazon. Tapping a spouse’s telephone may be a simple way to obtain information regarding adultery, care of the children, and other family court issues. Like most simple answers, it is not a good one. If you really want to scare your lawyer, hand him or her an audio tape and say, “Listen to this.” He or she may evict you from the office before you can say, “Just kidding.”

It is a federal crime to record telephone conversations to which you are not a party. This includes the use of FM transmitters to intercept and broadcast conversations, use of a scanner to receive cellular phone conversations, or intercepting electronic mail or voice mail of another without consent. For violations of federal laws against wiretapping, the penalty is $100 per day or $10,000, whichever is greater, plus payment of attorney’s fees and costs for each separate offense. Video tape recording of another or interception of walkie-talkie transmissions may subject a person to an invasion of privacy law suit under the South Carolina Constitution.

Even lawyers cannot ethically record a telephone conversation without disclosure and consent and it may be an ethical violation even with disclosure by consent of all parties. It is unethical for a lawyer to advise a client to record conversations. A situation in which a person may legally engage in wiretapping may exist; however, you must see another lawyer for that advice. My advice is “never wiretap.”

If your spouse chooses to leave an abusive, threatening, obscene, or otherwise ill-advised message on your voice mail or answering machine, that is a different situation. Save the message and prepare a written transcript of the message for me. Save the tape but do not bring it to me. We may need the tape for trial but I do not need it in my file.

You may follow, photograph, or video record your spouse if you do not break other laws. The problem arises at trial. Judges hate litigants who invade the privacy of the opposing party by following, photographing, or video recording their spouse or opposing party.