The Aftermath Of The Ashley Madison Hack
Will The Ashley Madison Hack Lead To A Surge Divorce Rates?
On the evening of August 18, 2015, the information (names, addresses, credit card numbers, email addresses) of over 37 million users of AshleyMadison.com was released by hackers. The website’s hack spread electronic evidence of infidelity across the internet. Incidentally, many family law attorneys are predicting a surge in the number of the divorce cases their firms will take on due to the website breach.
AshleyMadison.com is owned by Avid Life Media, a Toronto based company. In July it was confirmed by the company that data had been stolen from their servers by hackers who threatened to post user’s information online. The hackers demanded that the site be taken down or else they would go public with the information. Avid Life Media has stated they are working with the FBI and Canadian authorities to uncover the criminals behind the cyber-attack.
Although the hack of AshleyMadison.com was a criminal act, it will not stop suspicious spouses from looking through the data for their partner’s name and information. Attorney Susan Moss from the New York City firm Chemtob Moss & Foreman stated, “With this release of data, every curious spouse in America is going to check to see if their partner is on this list. This will lead to an influx of more divorces — or at the very least some very difficult conversations.” In addition to divorce attorneys seeing an increase in clientele, marriage therapists may also see a boon.
Most research finds that 39 percent of married women and 50 percent of married men are unfaithful. Divorces precipitated by cheating are far more acrimonious than divorces that follow years of therapy and mutually trying to work the relationship out. These divorces often cost both parties more time, money, and anguish. It has been estimated that half of married couples who face cheating seek divorce right away.
It will take some time to see how much of an impact the Ashley Madison hack has on divorce rates. Attorney Jacqueline Newman of Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd stated, “There’s definitely going to be a lot of people calling me in and wanting to quote-unquote know their rights. Whether they end up divorced, time will tell. But we’ll definitely be getting a lot of phone calls.”
Does Adultery Matter in a Florida divorce?
Florida is a “no fault” divorce state, meaning that either party may seek a divorce without having to prove the reasoning behind it. The spouse seeking divorce must simply state that the marriage is irretrievably broken. However, if adultery was committed, other elements of the divorce may be affected. Custody decisions based on the “moral fitness” of the parent may come in to play if it is proven that a parent’s affair had a negative impact on their child, in the form of limited custody and visitation rights. But, “when a parent’s alleged adultery is at issue . . . the act of adultery should not be taken into consideration in determining custody if the trial court finds that the spouse’s adultery does not have any bearing on the children’s welfare.” Smith v. Smith, 39 So. 3d 458, 461 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010).
A couple’s division of marital property and debt may also be affected if it is proven that the cheating partner intentionally wasted marital assets on the affair (gifts, trips, dinners, car payments, rent, etc.). The court may reduce the adulterer’s share of marital assets in order to compensate the spouse for their waste. See Romano v. Romano, 632 So. 2d 207, 210 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994) (“Where marital misconduct results in a depletion or dissipation of marital assets, such misconduct can serve as a basis for an unequal division of marital property, or can be assigned to the spending spouse as part of that spouse’s equitable distribution.”). Florida law specially lists adultery as a factor when determining the amount of alimony awarded, but courts often struggle to reconcile this consideration due to the fact that Florida is a “no fault” state. See § 61.08(1), Fla. Stat. (2015).