Ash­ley who? — The Ash­ley Madi­son leak and the poten­tial impact on families

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.