Husbands and wives across the world woke up Thursday to their partners’ extramarital affairs after a catastrophic leak at adultery website Ashley Madison spewed electronic evidence of infidelity across the Internet.
Online forums were buzzing with users claiming to have found evidence that their significant others were on the site.
Family law experts are divided on the likely offline impact of the leak.
Joe Cordell of well-known divorce law firm Cordell & Cordell — you know, the firm that represented Ozzie Smith — expects an uptick in the number of divorce filings.
“I think the numbers will be significant,” said Cordell, whose firm has offices in the metro-east.
Los Angeles-based divorce lawyer Steve Mindel said, “We're all saying: ‘It’s going to be Christmas in September.’ Pretty soon all of this stuff is going to surface and there’s going to be a lot of filings for divorce directly as a result of this.”
Cordell said even in states with “no-fault” divorce laws, where an extramarital affair isn’t supposed to matter in divorce court, there can be an impact in the courtroom.
“The technical answer is, in most states, the courts do not punish for marital misconduct. However, I can tell you that judges in divorce cases have a tremendous amount — a unique amount almost — of discretion,” Cordell said. “A judge’s opinion is very, very important in domestic relations — this whole notion about ‘poisoning the well.’ I always tell clients that we want to be the good guy in the judge’s mind, we want to be seen as reasonable.”
An affair also can be a factor in child-custody disputes, Cordell said, because the judge can consider “the lifestyle of the parties.”
Rosa Gossage, a Belleville divorce lawyer, said the Internet in general has transformed the divorce business.
“It's not just sites like Ashley Madison. It’s Facebook and Twitter. They leave an electronic trail ... And it’s all available in a divorce with a subpoena,” Gossage said.
Cordell said he’s seen custody cases where ex-spouse are out drinking in early-morning hours, when they’re supposed to be watching children. He’s seen cases where Craigslist records turned up hidden information about a spouse’s income.
“I can give you example after example where we’ve found very helpful evidence on the Internet,” he said. “The Internet has been a game-changer in the domestic-relations business.”
Ashley Madison marketed itself as the premier venue for cheating spouses before data stolen by hackers started spreading across the Internet earlier this week. The prospect of finding the name of a loved one or an acquaintance amid the site's more than 35 million registered members has drawn strong interest worldwide.
Websites devoted to checking emails against the leaked data appeared to be experiencing heavy traffic Thursday. Forums such as Reddit — the user-powered news and discussion site — carried stories of anguished husbands and wives confronting their partners after finding their data among the massive dump of information.
When the hosts of a morning show in Sydney, Australia, asked listeners to phone in if they wanted their spouse’s details run through the database, a woman called saying she was suspicious because her husband had been acting strangely since the news of the leak broke. The hosts plugged his details into a website and said they found a match.
“Are you serious? Are you freaking kidding me?” the woman asked, her voice shaking. “These websites are disgusting.” She then hung up.
Journalists were also combing through the data, looking for the names of celebrities, politicians or religious leaders. Their task has been complicated by the fact that many of the profiles were tied to fake or borrowed email addresses, which users did not necessarily have to validate.