Divorce and Ashley Madison

Reports about the dating website Ashley Madison claim that it has between 33 - 37 million users from 46 different countries.  The threat by the hackers known as the Impact Team, to release sensitive data relating to these users, could have catastrophic consequences for couples and their families all around the world. The fact that the website openly invites those who are in committed relationships to have an intimate relationship outside of that marriage or relationship, suggests that somewhere there is likely to be an unknowing partner/husband/wife at home, living in oblivion and unaware of the bombshell that could be about to hit . 

The subscribers themselves are no doubt watching carefully to see what the next move of the Impact Team will be whilst desperately trying to get their data removed.  The question on their lips – “will I be found out?”. 

As a lawyer and mediator specialising in family work, it’s not my job to judge how individuals behave towards each other in their relationship.  Neither do I seek to judge the business model of Ashley Madison or the millions of subscribers to the website.  Everyone has a story to tell.  Whilst some people are no doubt sniggering at the actions of others, the millions of users may feel completely justified in using such a service.

Advances in technology and the availability of information over the internet has increased opportunities to meet others but has also resulted in online information/public posts increasing the risk of a cheating spouse being discovered.  If the data is leaked, as members of the Impact Team threaten, how quickly will the courts in England and Wales see divorce petitions with reference to this website in them?

Despite many years of lobbying for a change in the law to introduce a “no fault” divorce system we’re not there yet.  Current legislation requires the petitioning party to show that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”.  The law provides five different facts to rely on in order to meet this requirement.  One of the most commonly used is “unreasonable behaviour” meaning the respondent to the proceedings has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with him/her.  Will subscribing to a website such as Ashley Madison be sufficient to meet this criteria even if adultery has not occurred?  Quite possibly.

Whether we see an increase in the divorce rate in the next few months may depend on whether or not the personal data is ultimately leaked by the hackers.



Sandra Marshall

Published on 23/07/2015

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