July 23, 2015
Ashley Madison is an online “dating” service for those who are married or in a committed relationship. Yes, you heard that right; it is a dating service which functions just like any other, except it helps people cheat. Founded in 2001, the website’s slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair.”
Lately, Ashley Madison has been making headlines for reasons other than its unique and controversial marketing angle. The site was the victim of a recent data hack. A group of hackers who call themselves “The Impact Team” accessed Ashley Madison’s entire customer base. They already published a small percentage of customer information online, and are threatening to release the additional photos, real names and payment information for a possible 37 million worldwide customers if the adultery site is not shut down.
In addition to the customer list of men and women which likely includes a mix of “regular Joes” and well-known names, all of which were discreetly cheating on their significant others, the hackers also have Ashley Madison employee documents and emails.
For a family law attorney, this begs the question: Is there really ever such a thing as a discreet affair? This may prove that there is not. The hack is also an important reminder that fault divorces are alive and well in the Commonwealth. A “discreet affair” can have a financial impact in your divorce, both in the equitable distribution phase of your case and alimony analysis, which both have marital misconduct as a factor in determining the appropriate division of marital assets. While the courts do generally care more about the economic circumstances of the parties (income, assets and liabilities, health, education, etc.), fault can factor into the award.
As I consider the outcome for those whose marriages are impacted by the hack, I suspect that some users of the site may claim they had an open marriage in order to defend their actions. If the other spouse contests the claim, it likely won’t hold up in court.
The hack also serves as a reminder to all that online activities are truly never secure. As technology advances, we’ve seen it play a larger role in divorce cases. Marriage dissolutions have been impacted by uncovered online activity in the form of social media, emails, and now dating websites.
As for the hackers, even though they may have had a Robin Hood mentality-take from the cheaters to give to the faithful-they too can be held accountable for this and likely will face legal ramifications if identified.
For Ashley Madison and their clients, this is an uncomfortable time, and one in which they should likely be thinking about legal representation.
The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances. The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.