Divorce Attorneys Across the Country Gear Up for Increase in Cases After Ashley Madison Hack
Ashley Madison is a dating service-style site that allows for anonymous cheating among married people. The website was hacked and millions of users’ data – including full names, partial credit card numbers, email addresses, and mailing addresses – was leaked for the public to see. Frantic spouses scoured the information and a tragic number found their spouse’s information.
“With this release of data, every curious spouse in America is going to check to see if their partner is on this list,” said Susan M. Moss, a partner at the New York firm Chemtob Moss & Forman. “This will lead to an influx of more divorces — or at the very least some very difficult conversations.”
While data analysts are still determining how often extramarital affairs occurred through user accounts on Ashley Madison – versus more common forms of cheating, including use of other dating websites, and simply meeting someone new at work or a social event – for many spouses, simply having an account on Ashley Madison seems to be cause for concern and potential divorce proceedings. There is no gray area about an Ashley Madison account, in many people’s opinions – the only reason to set up an account on that website is because the person has the intention to cheat on their spouse. Whether they are successful or not is beside the point.
Infidelity is a common reason for spouses to file for divorce or consult a divorce attorney. In the heat of the moment, an emotionally wounded partner might think that divorce due to emotional harm will have a more favorable outcome for them..
However, few courts work this way. Most states have no-fault divorce laws, meaning the spouse that is filing for divorce does not have to prove any fault on the part of the other spouse. It is unlikely that a judge will see that one spouse had an Ashley Madison account and give the other spouse a large alimony award and full custody of the children.
“I often hear from the wronged spouse: ‘I knew he was cheating! Now that I have proof I can get the house, the kids, the …’” says New York City divorce lawyer Morghan Richardson. The reality is that most states have no-fault divorce laws. That means that a judge doesn’t care why you are splitting up.”
In South Carolina, No-fault divorces require both spouses to live apart for a full year – a trial separation – then initiate divorce proceedings. Fault-based divorces can use infidelity as a basis for the divorce, but the initiating spouse must prove infidelity on the part of their husband or wife. Simply having an account on Ashley Madison, while it shows intention, does not prove that the owner actually did initiate an affair. To initiate a divorce without proof of infidelity would fall under no-fault divorce.