THE ASHLEY MADISON HACK--COULD IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR DIVORCE?

The users of Ashley Madison, an online dating website designed for people who were already married but wanted to have an affair, got some very bad news earlier this summer. Either one or a group of hackers-still at large-managed to obtain the username and billing information for 37 million user accounts. The hackers, decrying the dishonest purposes of the website, insisted that the site be taken down, or all the information would be released. When Ashley Madison's leadership refused to take down the site, the hackers began to make public what they'd stolen. The information about these users has been leaked out in chunks by the hackers, and is now available to be searched in several locations across the internet. 

Finding a spouse's email address among the many users is surely a grim discovery, and could, if nothing else, lead to a difficult conversation. If the relationship decayed to the point of divorce, however, the fact that one spouse was publicly looking for an opportunity to cheat would probably not make a difference in an award of alimony or division of property. While divorces used to be granted based on the fault of one party for reasons such as cruelty, abandonment, or adultery, the majority of states have moved to a no-fault system, including New Jersey. Although New Jersey does recognize adultery as a "fault-based" ground for divorce, and adultery could affect an alimony award in that instance, judges presiding over no-fault divorces do not typically involve themselves with battles over who cheated on whom, and instead award alimony based on other factors, such as maintaining a spouse's standard of living, and the length of the marriage.

The outcome could be different if the spouses signed a prenuptial agreement that included an adultery clause, however. If the couple had agreed that a lump payment might be due to the cheated-upon party, or that alimony would be waived if that spouse stepped out, then the Ashley Madison leak might have much greater legal and monetary significance to the parties. It should be noted that the legality of these "adultery clauses" is still somewhat in debate, but many spouses who have been uncovered to be cheaters don't contest these provisions, perhaps out of guilt.

To consult with an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer, contact the Morristown law firm of Smith & Doran, at 973-292-0016.

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