Recently, Ashley Madison, a website dedicated to helping married people cheat, was hacked, putting the personal information of its 37 million users at risk.
The scandal has provided a poignant reminder of the prevalence of adultery in our society and is also the latest example of how the rise of the Internet and social media is impacting marriages.
It also has led to much speculation about whether there will be a surge in the number of divorces if the information is released.
Each state’s grounds for divorce vary, but every state offers some form of no-fault divorce, meaning a couple does not need to prove fault in order to divorce. However, around 30 states offer fault-based divorce as an option.
Once fault is established in a divorce, the court will grant the party not at fault a divorce. In some states, a greater share of the marital estate might also be awarded and the marital misconduct could impact maintenance amounts.
So the information from the hack, if released, could certainly come into play during divorce cases.
“It comes into play in a lot of ways in divorce court,” said Cordell & Cordell Principal Partner Joe Cordell in a recent interview on the Fox Business Network. “The courts are often impatient and it poisons the well in some respects in the minds of judges regarding marital misconduct and other factors. Not to mention it often is a trail that leads to additional valuable information.”
Still, some attorneys have noted that the notion of using proof of an affair to obtain a better settlement is outdated and doubt the hack will lead to a greater number of divorces. With the emergence of no-fault divorce, many judges are uninterested in hearing about fault. Often they will order an even split of property and encourage attorneys to ignore the misconduct in the interest of finishing the case in a timely manner.
Divorces that involve infidelity are typically more emotional and contentious and going through the process of proving one’s infidelity can lead to more costly litigation. For some couples who realize their marriage is broken, it might not be worth going through all that hassle.
But just because a person doesn’t pursue a fault-based divorce doesn’t mean that their spouse’s infidelity wasn’t the main cause of seeking divorce.
“Just because people these days don’t seek fault-ground divorces for adultery doesn’t mean the hacked revelations won’t lead more people to the unfortunate option of divorce,” said Pennsylvania family law attorney William Phelan IV. “If someone was revealed on this website, there are still other easier grounds to attain a divorce.”