Media stories on the Ashley Madison hack have spotlighted data security and privacy issues. But there is much more at stake: families. Some have speculated that the release of the Ashley Madison data will lead to increased marital problems and divorce rates.
Before last summer, many people would have had no idea that Ashley Madison was anything other than a person’s name. Now, people nationwide recognize Ashley Madison as a hook-up site for those who are married.
In case you missed it, the personal and private data of over 33 million of Ashley Madison’s customers was recently compromised. The hackers scored traditional personally identifiable information, such as names, street names, passwords, partial credit card debt, and telephone numbers. However, they also accessed private information of a very intimate nature, such as sexual fantasies and message history.
Much of this information was posted online for the world to see. Suddenly, friends, spouses, and others knew not only who was a customer of Ashley Madison but much, much more.
What are the implications of this giant data breach in family law?
Very early on, some divorce attorneys predicted a spike in the divorce rate. Certainly, the ability to confirm infidelity could cause spouses who previously weren’t sure about divorcing to file their papers.
But the implications of this data breach could be wider than originally thought.
Suddenly, one partner is armed with what would appear to be undeniable evidence of infidelity, and the other partner is likely to be riddled with guilt. This imbalance could cause the former to stake out a position and refuse to budge and the latter to simply fold. Is it possible that these feelings could affect the outcome of divorce proceedings?
Any issue that is wholly or partly in the parties’ control could be easily affected. For example, the parties have a great deal of influence on issues such as personal property division and visitation plans. The guilty partner might feel obligated to cave in, and often, the judge will approve the parties’ plan as long as it is reasonable. Likewise, the imbalance in perceived power could greatly affect settlement and, because feelings are hurt, drive up attorney fees in protracted litigation.
Some issues, however, will not be impacted. For example, California law explicitly spells out how property division will take place. Barring proof of money spent by the guilty partner on affairs, which might be considered marital waste, property division will not be affected. Custody of the parties’ children also will not be affected, as the core focus in custody determinations is the “best interest of the children” and the factors considered by courts are spelled out by law.
If you’re involved in a divorce and don’t know where to turn, you should work with an experienced, compassionate attorney who can help guide you through California law. Attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have substantial experience in Northern California family law, including cases involving infidelity. Please contact us today at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.