'Life is short - have an Affair'. This is the strap line used by Ashley Madison, the self-described 'discreet' dating website for married individuals seeking an affair and which gives tips on how to cover your tracks.
The website has been hacked by a group known as 'The Impact Team' and some of the details of over 37 Million users worldwide have now been released online.
Ironically perhaps, considering the site was a resource that promoted infidelity, some victims are reported to have commented that they felt dreadful because their trust had been betrayed. It would seem however that, for some at least, their sense of 'betrayal' was aimed more against the lack of digital protection against the hack than any moral indignation.
So should those who joined Ashley Madison in order to cheat on their spouse now feel cheated themselves?
Avid Life Media (ALM) who run Ashley Madison have described the hack as an 'act of criminality' and state they will use the full extent of the law to find those responsible and take appropriate action. They described the hackers as self-appointed 'judge, juror and executioner' of their clients whose membership of the site they defended as a 'safe alternative' to cheating with a work colleague or friend and would only be used by those determined to have an affair in any event.
Media reaction and various commentaries to date appear to fall into two separate camps.
There are those who see this as a demonstration of a deep and severe lack of understanding that 'privacy' online is not what it seems and that this 'criminal act' will have far wider consequences such as breaking up families and costing high profile individuals status and opportunities.
On the other hand, there are some who see this as evidence that that cheaters never prosper and deserve to get caught out. They see the hack as a 'public service' and commend the hackers' tenacity in bringing those 'guilty' of adultery to justice.
The internet did not invent adultery. Neither did Ashley Madison, but they did aim to make it easier with the use of technology. What is clear from this is whilst it may be simpler to cover your tracks online, technology also makes it easier to catch you out. The use of technology has also seen a rise in the use of private detectives in divorce cases to prove adultery and an ongoing relationship and dependence.
In the UK there is one ground for a divorce: that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. One point to note is that a marriage where one party is caught having an affair is not necessarily doomed to failure.
The possibility that some people may get divorced in the next few months as a consequence of the hack is strong, but the likelihood of 37 million extra people doing so is remote. Indeed some have already come forward to highlight that the email account used to join Ashley Madison was one they did not use or were unaware of.
It is unclear what identity checks were carried out to confirm users by email. Whether this is accepted or not by a suspicious spouse is another matter and most observers seem to believe that the hack will lead to a wave of cheated spouses seeking divorce and a financial claim.
However, these actions, if they materialise, may not be successful. The breakdown of the marriage is evidenced by one of five facts, of which adultery is one that needs to be either accepted by the other party or proved.
Signing up to an adulterous website does not prove adultery.
Joining the site may however be used to formulate a history of 'unreasonable behaviour' which is another one of the facts upon which the marriage breakdown can be based. It's also a common, but mistaken, belief that an adulterous act by a spouse means that the other party is automatically entitled to more of the assets in a divorce.
This is not necessarily the case and the determination of how assets are split on divorce is based upon various factors in a particular set of circumstances. The only exception may be if the act of adultery then turns into an ongoing relationship. This may affect how assets are divided between the couple as the new relationship may pull together two sources of income and the new partner may have their own assets, such as property, which may meet their needs.
This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.