I’m late to the party, I know. The Ashley Madison hack is over a month old and probably the most initial drama is over by now. But oh how the drama will continue to trickle down (or gush forth) based on each individual situation and family involved. There are so many questions left unanswered at this point. So many cheating spouses now scrambling to pick up pieces and possibly salvage what is left of a marriage. So many cheated-on spouses wondering if divorce is now the next step. How will families recover from this barrage of evil?
Bottom line, affairs are done in secret. Just because this exposure was sudden and vast in numbers, doesn’t mean that it acts different than finding out a spouse is cheating in any other way. Mistrust has the same ugly, hopeless face no matter what brings the dishonesty to light.
If you are one who found your spouse’s information in the hack, and are now looking at divorce, be sure that you are documenting every little thing along the way. This is somewhat unfamiliar territory, though divorce lawyers are very quickly becoming versed in the situation and studying up. The divorce part isn’t new. People file for divorce often, and infidelity can definitely be a common reason. However, a name on the list of Ashley Madison users doesn’t necessarily guarantee their support. Nor is infidelity alone legal grounds for divorce in some states across the US. One lawyer states, ”Signing up to an adulterous website does not prove adultery. Joining the site may however be used to formulate a history of ‘unreasonable behavior,’ (or “irreconcilable differences”) which is another one of the facts upon which the marriage breakdown can be based.
‘It’s also a common, but mistaken, belief that an adulterous act by a spouse means that the other party is automatically entitled to more of the assets in a divorce. This is not necessarily the case and the determination of how assets are split on divorce is based upon various factors in a particular set of circumstances’.”
Whether or not the filing spouse can get more of the assets based on the cheating spouse’s behavior is up in the air. There are some states that say, “If your spouse spent money from the marital estate, which can include earnings, and your spouse was contemplating divorce when he or she spent the money to 1) cheat 2) while cheating or 3) trying to cheat, you may have a claim for dissipation of assets, a form of relief that is a vestige of fault-based divorce.” A Kentucky lawyer mentions that, “A court could very easily rule that money a cheating spouse spends is marital property and order the cheating spouse to restore the other spouse to a portion of the money spent, purchase by purchase.” This is why it is important to have history, records, data, financial statements, online activity, etc for an extended period of time if possible. Be ever so diligent to document everything you possibly can.
Your goal here should not be to destroy the cheating spouse (though that might feel good at this point), but it should be to provide for and protect yourself and your children it the wake of the disaster. Let’s be honest, the hack and exposure may have been a sudden, sharp blow, but the process of divorce and its aftermath is often a slow, painful, drawn out and ongoing marathon. The divorce itself has many details that legally have to be worked out. That is what you need documentation and sound legal advice for. Then you have the children in the mix. How do you safely navigate this new territory for them?
Regardless of how an affair happens, whether in person, online, short-lived or long-term, there is never an easy, subtle way to explain things to your children. The best advice I’ve ever received for covering tough topics with my children is to talk, talk, talk and get help. Seek out some counseling or get help from a trusted advisor to begin the conversations if necessary. Be open enough with your kids to talk about things at their level. Do not over-share, especially when it comes to bashing their father and spewing your own emotional baggage onto them. That is not what is meant here by “talking.” By talking, I really mean listening. Be ready to field questions from your child. Encourage them to ask, and use their questions to guide where the conversation goes. Their questioning will allow you to know what to share about the situation, and how to answer them honestly, but with adult discretion especially for younger children.
This is also an incredible platform to discuss online safety with your kids. Some key questions to ask would be:
- Do you put your personal information online?
- Have you ever posted something that you regret?
- What sorts of pictures are ok to post?
- Do you hide anything about your online activity?
- Have you ever talked to someone online that you don’t know personally?
- Do you say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in person?
These are good conversation starters and incredibly important discussions to have with your children.
The bottom line in the wake of this mess? Don’t go it alone. Get help from a lawyer immediately if you are considering filing for divorce. Get help from trusted friends even if you feel ashamed. It will make you stronger. Get the advice and support that will help you take care of your family. Seek the advice of a therapist or family counselor, for you and your children. Keep the lines of communication open with your children as you navigate these new waters. Let them ask questions and lovingly respond at their level. A marathon doesn’t feel good in the process. Its hard, trying, and it forces you to push through the really hard parts to make it to the finish line. The accomplishment at the end though, is empowering and motivating. The hope it that at the end of the marathon of divorce, the accomplishment would be to have a situation that would care for your children in the best way possible regardless of the dissolution of the marriage. Does that motivate you?