Ashley-Madison is a controversial online dating/social networking service, based in Canada, which markets to married individuals or those in a committed relationship. Its slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair.” The site, which was launched in 2001, has more than 124 million visitors each month. On July 15, 2015, the site was hacked and customer data, including names, home addresses, sexual fantasy information, and credit card information, was stolen. The first round of customer names was released on July 15, 2015, with several other releases occurring throughout the end of July, into August. It appears approximately 39 million users have had their information and identities compromised. As of August 20, 2015, a class action suit had been filed against the site, requesting $578 million in damages.
How will this breach of Ashley Madison information effect divorces in Pennsylvania? The disclosure of membership status on the site may lead the non-website participating spouse to file a fault ground divorce complaint, alleging adultery. Unfortunately, proof of membership on the site may not be enough, as most adultery claims require an action of adultery, not just its intent, in order to be successful. Furthermore, as the site is rumored to invent fake profiles of women looking for affairs (as there is a disproportionate male to female user ratio) if it is discovered that the website participating spouse was involved in such a “relationship,” the adultery ground will most certainly become moot. If the adultery ground proves unsuccessful, the non-website participating spouse could file a fault ground divorce under an indignities ground. In this type of action, the non-website participating spouse would have to prove that his or her life became “burdensome and intolerable,” due to the website participating spouse’s membership and the subsequent notoriety status it created.
As for assets, in Pennsylvania, there will be little to no effect on the division of the parties’ marital assets as a result of a spouse’s membership status with Ashley Madison, as fault is not a factor a judge may consider when determining the division of assets between spouses. Judges may, however, review and consider the amount of marital assets a cheating spouse expended on an affair and use that against the cheating spouse when determining a division of marital assets. The act of depleting marital assets to subsidize an affair is known as a dissipation of marital assets. As the site works on a “credit” basis, it is hard to assess whether a “regular membership” in the site will rise to this level, however, the site does boast a higher membership, affording those clients with “priority” communication status, which most certainly will include a higher membership fee.
Finally, in Pennsylvania, a judge must consider fault grounds when determining the appropriateness of an alimony award. As such, the adulterous spouse may find himself or herself obligated to pay alimony, long after Ashley Madison ceases to be a household name.
Cara A. Boyanowski concentrates her practice in the field of domestic law and wills and estates. As a domestic law practitioner, she represents clients in simple and complex divorce, support, custody, alimony, step-parent adoptions, name change and same-sex divorce and custody matters. She works out of Obermayer’s Harrisburg, PA office and can be reached at 717-234-5315 or at Cara.Boyanowski@obermayer.com.