Hackers have released the names of 33 million people who signed up to the Ashley Madison dating website. The site sells itself, at least in part, as somewhere for people to seek out extra-marital relationships and uses the controversial tagline “Life is short. Have an affair”.
Of course not all those people who signed up with Ashley Madison will be married, some may in fact not even be in a relationship and some profiles will be fictitious, but there are potentially millions of other halves who find may find their partner’s name on the website and assume the worst.
Some couples might be able work through issues raised and for others there might be explanations, which mean that their relationship is not brought into question. But what of the married couples whose partners have, during the time of their relationship and/or marriage, decided that the website appealed to them? Understandably, some people will consider that their marriage has been damaged beyond repair by the revelation that their partner has signed up to a website with at least a curiosity of being unfaithful.
As various media outlets have sought to get comment from those whose names have been revealed, a number have responded saying that they never intended to have an affair and that they signed up without the intention of committing adultery. Whilst this may go some way towards appeasing their conscience, it certainly is not a defence to a prospective divorce, should their spouse wish to pursue that end. Adultery is one of the five facts that can be relied upon to petition for divorce in England and Wales, but it must either be admitted or proven. The appearance of a profile on a website will not be enough to prove adultery. However, a far more common fact relied upon is “unreasonable behaviour”. This covers a vast array of undesirable behaviour and being signed up to a website notorious for facilitating extra-marital affairs is likely to come within the remit. This is in contrast to some behaviour that has been rejected by the Court, such as one party becoming “bored” with the relationship or one party simply citing “frequent lengthy arguments”. A spouse planning or considering having an affair clearly goes beyond this.
It remains to be seen whether the list of names revealed leads to an increased number of divorce petitions, but those affected and considering their options would be well advised to take legal advice on the divorce process and possible outcomes, especially where there are financial assets to be considered or children involved.
For more information on family or children matters please contact Alison Green, Head of the Family Team.