Ramifications of the Ashley Madison Data Breach

Ramifications of the Ashley Madison Data Breach

By Randy Kessler | rkessler@ksfamilylaw.com

Divorce lawyers everywhere are already familiar with the website Ashley Madison because membership on it is almost sufficient proof of an affair by a spouse. Belonging to this dating site for married people — whose slogan is “Life is short, have an affair” — is usually enough to convince a judge, a mediator or your spouse that someone is cheating.

Ramifications of the Ashley Madison Data Breach 1
Randy Kessler

Perhaps more important, divorce lawyers and therapists are acutely aware that the simple desire to cheat is even more offensive to a spouse than the actual act of cheating.

Prior to the Ashley Madison data breach, lawyers and clients have engaged private investigators, forensic computer analysts and others to see whether spouses belonged to the site or had used its services.

This breach may make it easier to learn who used it and who didn’t. But unfortunately, what this news may do is give Ashley Madison more publicity than it has ever had. Certainly the site’s operators are not concerned that they are perceived as promoting adultery. In fact, they want the word to be spread and for people to use their site to help commit adultery.

Anyone who uses the site must certainly realize that there are risks of being caught. What if the person you end up meeting on the site is someone you already know or someone who knows your spouse? Or what if your spouse sees the site on your computer one day by accident?

As a divorce lawyer for over 25 years, I do not think this data breach will cause more divorce. Yes, that’s what I wrote.

Those people who use Ashley Madison to have an affair and who were already headed toward divorce may get there faster now that their secret is out. But this hack or breach may actually have the effect of causing people to hesitate when using such a service.

There are apparently nearly 40 million users on Ashley Madison. There is no way that we will now see 40 million divorces. And the bottom line is that affairs more often truly are the side effect of a bad marriage.

Once someone elects to have an affair, the marriage is often in very serious trouble if not already irretrievably broken. Yes, more people will be caught, but perhaps that will actually save some marriages. Forcing the issue, making people address what they have done, can often lead to reconciliation. The alternative is for the conduct to last so long that the parties become apathetic toward each other.

What this breach may do is to force legislatures to look more closely at this site. Perhaps laws will be generated that prohibit sites like Ashley Madison.

Will the public rise up and demand that sites that promote infidelity (which is still a crime in some states) be prohibited? Who knows? But as with all social issues, sunlight remains the best disinfectant, and this data breach shed a lot of sunlight onto a lot of people’s activities.

Maybe it will help. Maybe people will think more before they engage in relationships like those promoted or condoned by Ashley Madison.

As for divorce lawyers, we certainly will now have an easier time proving someone had an affair, and that should save clients a lot of money they might have otherwise spent on private investigators. But other than that, human nature is human nature. Spouses will continue to cheat on each other, and they will continue to get caught.


Randy Kessler is the founding partner of the family law firm Kessler & Solomiany (www.ksfamilylaw.com) in downtown Atlanta and former chairman of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section.

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