Does Ashley Madison Affect California's Divorce Laws?

Ashley Madison is the name of a web site based in Canada designed to help people in committed relationships have sexual affairs with others in committed relationships. It claims to have over 39 million members in 53 countries.

According to Wikipedia, unlike or, the business model for Ashley Madison is based on credits rather than monthly subscriptions. For example, in a conversation between two members, one of the members must pay five credits to initiate the conversation. Then follow-up messages between the two members are free. The members pay for their credits by credit card and also provide the site with personal information regarding their sexual preferences. Apparently, all the members’ personal information and their personal requests were not deleted, but saved by the web site, and security to access the information could be easily breached or hacked

On or about July 15, 2015, the site was hacked by group calling itself “The Impact Team.” The hackers claimed to have stolen the identities and other personal information of Ashley Madison’s members and threatened to release the information if the site did not immediately shut down. The site did not shut down, and beginning on or about August 8, 2015, the hackers began dumping the information on the Dark Web (a part of the World Wide Web, but requires specific software to access it). As many as 32 million Ashley Madison members then began receiving extortion letters stating that their personal information would be shared with their spouses unless the extortionists received bitcoins from the members. (A bitcoin is worth about $225.00.) Whether the blackmail money was paid did not matter in the end, because the information was posted on the regular public internet and became accessible to mainstream web users. Many members suffered public shame for their participation on the Ashley Madison web site, and many of their spouses threated to divorce them for adultery.

However, in California, the act of adultery is not grounds for divorce. In fact, there are no grounds for divorce in California. California is a no-fault state. Section 2335 of the Family Code states “…in proceedings for dissolution of marriage … evidence of specific acts of misconduct [i.e., fault] is improper and inadmissible.” That does not mean that a spouse cannot get a divorce from an adulterous spouse, but that adultery cannot be used as the reason for the divorce. In California, a divorce or dissolution of marriage will only be granted based on the irreconcilable differences causing the irremediable breakdown of the marriage. In other words, if one spouse believes the adulterous conduct of the other spouse cannot be forgiven (or reconciled), and the marriage cannot be repaired, then that spouse will be granted a divorce.

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