The Ontario based adultery website, AshleyMadison.com, has recently been the victim of a cyberattack that has grabbed the attention of many news media outlets. The hackers have threatened to publish the confidential customer information of the website’s users – many have raised the spectre of a spike in divorce rates if this threat is carried out.
What do such revelations of adultery really mean for divorce in Ontario?
First, we live in an era of “no fault divorce” – what this means is that you do not need to prove adultery to obtain a divorce and, strictly speaking, it is not relevant to any other of the rights of the parties under the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act – including in relation to the possession of the matrimonial home.
This will often come as a further surprise to spouses for whom adultery is a fundamental issue in the break-down of a marriage. Experienced guidance is critical to the management of a separation which arises from the sudden revelation of an Ashley Madison membership or other evidence of infidelity – and critical to ensuring an optimal outcome.
On the one hand, for the “innocent” party, the existence of exposed adultery may help a party to take the moral high-ground in negotiating a fair and generous settlement from the “guilty” spouse. Indeed, the fear that an innocent spouse may behaving in a vindictive and angry way, including in protracting divorce litigation can often help encourage a guilty spouse to bring the divorce to a speedy and generous solution.
On the other hand, as the “Ashley Madison” member going through a divorce, it is critical to understand how their former spouse is feeling – and likely to react. Trying to drive an upset spouse who feels they have been wronged to settle, even on exceptionally fair terms, can often back-fire. Very often, a hurt party needs time to come to terms with their feelings, before they can make decisions about how their financial life will look in the future – including decisions about selling the matrimonial home or staying, how child custody and support arrangement might in the future and how they may impact their job prospects. Trying to force the issue, very often with a spouse who has lost all trust, is likely to be met with suspicion no matter how objectively fair the deal is.
These are the soft factors which an experienced family law lawyer can assess in helping to develop a roll-out plan that works to get to a resolution of equalization of property, matrimonial and support issues in the most efficient manner. This advice is critical in avoiding a high-conflict divorce or, if necessary, de-escalating that conflict so that an optimum resolution can be reached.