If you have been paying attention to the news within the past few months, then you may have heard of a recent leak of personal information from the website Ashley Madison. While there have been plenty of data breaches that have affected millions of people, due to the nature of Ashley Madison’s services (the company’s slogan is “Life is short, have an affair.”) many users of the service are alleged to have had or sought adulterous relationships. Needless to say, it can be embarrassing and even shocking for a spouse to find out that his or her significant other is engaged in seeking an adulterous relationship. The big question that comes after this is what kind of effect this data breach will have on marriages within the United States and whether or not it will result in an increase in divorces. While the answer may be clear-cut to some, there are a number of factors that must be taken into account when examining this issue.
One of the first things a person must do in order to obtain an official divorce is to have a basic understanding of the divorce law in their particular jurisdiction. Because family law is governed by state laws, the procedure to obtain a divorce in one state will not necessarily be the same as in another state. In fact, different states may even hold different reasons for divorce and can even go so far as having vastly different outcomes to the same fact pattern. While most states allow for no-fault divorce, some states allow for fault to be a factor in the divorce proceedings, with many states taking surrounding factors such as the faithfulness of the parties and personal investment in the marriage when making a ruling on a divorce.
While Florida is one of many states that does not recognize fault as a reason for divorce, Florida law does allow courts to consider factors surrounding the divorce and the marriage, which can include adultery. For example, in Florida, courts may consider a number of factors when determining the amount of alimony, including:
- The length of the marriage;
- The physical and emotional state of each party;
- The contributions of each party to the marriage; and
- Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
Much as with alimony decisions, courts are also allowed to consider the state and character of the parents when making custody determinations. As with any other jurisdiction, in a custody hearing regarding a minor child in Florida, the court will be primarily concerned with what is known as the “best interests of the child.” While this can seem like a broad and somewhat nebulous term, Florida law provides some guidelines that allow courts to determine what is in the best interests of the child. Factors courts are allowed to consider include, but are not limited to:
- The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after litigation;
- The home, school, and community record of the child;
- The mental and physical health of the parents; and,
- The moral fitness of the parents.
While there may not be any basis in Florida law for non-adulterous spouses to divorce adulterous spouses, there are clear advantages to obtaining a divorce if actual or potential adultery was a factor leading to the divorce. Not only would it be possible for a spouse to obtain alimony payments, even if only temporarily, but also, evidence that the other spouse solicited an adulterous relationship could have a major effect on child custody and time-sharing issues.
With that in mind, it is important to remember that the data released during the Ashley Madison breach would not be evidence of any actual adultery. While many people would be devastated upon finding out that their significant other was actively searching for an adulterous relationship with another person, simply having an account may not be sufficient evidence for a court to determine that adultery had taken place.
At the end of the day, however, while there may be several advantages to be gained from divorcing an adulterous spouse, the decision to divorce ultimately rests with the spouses. While some might seek full vindication in court, others might be more forgiving. The fact of the matter is that a marriage is a lengthy process based on the contributions of two people. While there may be an event that shatters the trust built between the two spouses, such as finding out that one spouse was seeking an adulterous relationship, it is possible for individuals to make a fresh start.
Just as there may be situations in which parties reconcile and chose to move beyond one spouse’s attempt at beginning an adulterous relationship, there are other situations in which the non-adulterous spouse may feel that it would not be prudent to file for divorce due to financial or emotional reasons. While divorce is generally available to any married individual who might seek it, a divorce is a life-changing event that can have long-reaching effects on a person’s personal life, financial status, and even on their work.