Australia: What impact does the Ashley Madison hack have on Family Law matters?

Recent articles confirm that data disclosing the identities of the "anonymous" users of the website Ashley Madison (a website that facilitates and encourages partners being unfaithful to each other), has been leaked online.

Many of these articles speculate that, as a consequence of that information, there will be a serious spike in the amount of family law matters as people learn that their spouse/partner has been unfaithful.

In circumstances where Ashley Madison advertises itself as having 37,565,000 anonymous members, there may well be some truth to the claims. What people may be surprised (and disappointed) to learn, however, even if there is an influx of family law matters, and the release of the Ashley Madison data is the reason for it, the fact that a person has been using the website bears little, if any, relevance to family law matters.

Since 1975, Australia has been a "no fault" jurisdiction. What this means is that, unlike the United States for example, it's unnecessary to demonstrate to the Court that that one or both parties are at fault in order to dissolve a marriage.

The parties just need to have been separated for 12 months with no prospects of reconciliation. People often believe that unfaithfulness is in some way, disentitling behaviour when it comes to spending time with the children – that's not the case. The Court's paramount consideration is the best interests of the children (and unless they have been exposed to some form of unsavoury behaviour, it's unlikely that a person being unfaithful affects the best interests of the children – at least as far as the Court is concerned).

In relation to property matters, there is no impact upon the way in which assets are divided by one person or another's unfaithfulness to their spouse (unless there has been extravagant spending on the third party).

In my experience, unfaithfulness is not the main reason that parties separate. It's certainly one of them, but stands alongside factors such as money difficulties, children, complacency in a marriage and the interference of an extended family.

I have no doubt however that there are over 37 million concerned people who are right now wondering how the Ashley Madison hack will affect their personal lives. Marriages may indeed end as a consequence. However, use of that information to determine what should happen with arrangements for children, or how property should be divided, is likely to have little impact on the way in which that family law matter is decided.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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