24 August 2015 Ashley who? - The Ashley Madison leak and the potential impact on families

By Melanie Rubin

In Brief

If you aren't on the Ashley Madison database, at first blush the leak may seem exciting and an opportunity to see what's been going on in other people's lives, even better still if it's people you know.  But for those on the database its potential impact is far reaching and potentially devastating.   

The facts

The Ashley Madison website, with its slogan “Life is short. Have an affair” is marketed to facilitate extramarital relationships. The users of this website had their personal information disclosed to the public revealing the alleged cheaters. By now, if you aren't directly affected you may know someone who has been.  As a divorce lawyer I'm most concerned about the inescapable impact on families. The uncovered truths of what people have been up to on the Ashley Madison website will shake some households and potentially destroy families.

Australia has "no fault" divorce which means that the court isn't interested in whether or not someone had an affair.  But the reality is that an affair will often lead to the decision to separate and end the marriage. 

Before "no fault" divorce was introduced (came into effect in 1976) to get a divorce you had to prove that there were grounds for divorce - that one of the parties was at fault, without it the divorce would not be granted.  The reason for the end of the marriage affected how much of the assets a spouse walked away with and what they had to pay to the other. The innocent party generally "did better" than the one at fault.

"No fault" divorce means that the court doesn’t want to hear about the reasons for the marriage breakdown.  Parties can just decide they've had enough and want to end the marriage.  Sometimes one of the parties doesn't want to get divorced but the divorce will be granted because all that needs to be shown is that they've lived separately for 12 months.

The reality is that the reasons for the marriage breakdown often impact on parties being able to reach an agreement on financial matters and parenting arrangements.  Also if the marriage ended due to mental illness of one of the parties, this will have an impact on parenting arrangements going forward.

The intention of introducing "no fault" divorce was to take the "heat out" of disputes. Unfortunately, it hasn't had the desired effect.  This is because there isn't an opportunity to openly address the issues and get them off ones chest, they linger.  In my experience, mediation and collaboration provide the appropriate forum to talk things through but the court system doesn't provide that same opportunity. Often as soon as the issue has been addressed the rest of the jigsaw puzzle seems to fall into place bringing about a resolution.


In my view, those affected by the Ashley Madison leak should avoid making hasty decisions no matter on which side of the leak they find themselves.  At the very least, they should obtain sound and cool headed advice and give themselves every opportunity to carefully consider their options.  Let's hope that the families affected by this situation are able to make their way to the other end, intact.

For further information on family law, please contact our family law team.

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This article is not legal advice and the views and comments are of a general nature only. This article is not to be relied upon in substitution for detailed legal advice.

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