For many people, the Ashley Madison account hack is a fascinating trainwreck that’s already taken down one celebrity. But the sheer breadth of people who had Ashley Madison accounts makes the entire ordeal more real — and potentially life-changing — for countless others, including many private citizens. According to some counts, 37-million accounts were involved in the hack.
If you were one of those who used the service meant to help users have affairs, you likely already know it. (After all, you signed up, didn’t you?).
If you suspect your spouse might have been involved, you’re probably experiencing a range of emotions, and you might be eager to act on them.
That’s where Ohio family law practitioners Babbitt & Dahlberg can help.
“It’s a lot of assessing the damage: Is this something you think is the end of your marriage? If that’s the case, obviously that’s where we come in to start wrapping things up,” said Ohio family law attorney Gus Dahlberg.
Unless you have other reasons to believe your spouse is cheating, you might not want to go down this particular rabbit trail for confirmation, Gus said.
“I would be careful about it, to be perfectly honest,” he said. “How much do you want to know? Do you want to find out if there’s an account or do you just want to have an open conversation with your spouse?”
Beyond the obvious questions the search might raise about your marriage, looking for a spouse’s email address on an internet database can also open you up to blackmail or privacy concerns.
“There’s at least one account that I’ve now read that suggests even these sites that have compiled all the data are collecting the addresses people are searching for for the purposes of marketing,” Gus said.
Trustify, for instance, will send an email to the address searched for on its site, alerting the user that his or her address is included in the hack in order to offer their security services to the owner of the email address, Gus said.
“At the end of the day, how badly do you want to know, and is it worth spending time obsessing over?”
So you found your spouse’s email address was used for an Ashley Madison account. What do you do now? The last thing you should do, Gus advised, is panic. According to several recent news reports, that’s exactly what some people are doing. Two people have apparently committed suicide in the wake of the scandal.
But Gus’ advice: Breathe. In other words, take a step back and assess the situation calmly.
“Things are never as bad as you think they are, and finding something like that isn’t the end of the world; it’s a link in the chain, a piece of the overall puzzle that is your marriage and, maybe, eventual divorce,” Gus said.
For one thing, just because an email address is found on the site doesn’t mean the person behind the account is guilty of cheating, Gus said.
Email confirmations weren’t required by Ashley Madison, so someone could have entered an email address used by someone else, or maybe your spouse signed up for an account but never followed through with the intention to cheat. Or maybe he or she signed up out of curiosity, to see what the service was like.
You could choose to talk to a lawyer immediately, but maybe a conversation with your spouse should come first, Gus suggested.
“If you do find that name on there and you think you need to discuss what that might mean in a divorce court, give us a call,” Gus said. “I hate to give people relationship advice — that’s not my job. But if it’s a friend calling, I’d say, ‘Have you talked to (your spouse) yet?’”
Or maybe you need to do some counseling as a couple.
Maybe. Finding your spouse’s email address on a database for Ashley Madison users might be the impetus for contacting a divorce lawyer, but it’s not going to be a smoking gun in a case, Gus said.
“The fallout is more emotional than anything else,” Gus said. “At most it shows maybe intent, that they were looking outside a relationship, but it doesn’t prove anything actually happened.”
Adultery can be a finding for a divorce, but you have to prove there was a relationship, Gus said. Having a name in an Ashley Madison database doesn’t prove that.
“In most cases it’s going to confirm things you already suspected: ‘They’re not interested in me,’ or, ‘They’re looking elsewhere.’ It doesn’t prove adultery,” Gus said.
Where it might be more relevant for a divorce proceeding is in the financials behind an Ashley Madison account. In other words: “Was there financial misconduct by this person spending my money on this?”
The Ashley Madison account hack is rooted in public shaming, but don’t let yourself get caught up in this, no matter how potentially embarrassing it might be for you.
“Look, people don’t like to be caught doing those things, of admitting they were leading this double life that’s now out in the open,” Gus said.
But don’t let that fear rule you. If someone’s trying to blackmail you or your family, call the police, Gus said.
Maybe it goes without saying, but the internet is forever and what you do in private online isn’t going to remain private forever, Gus said. Take this recent case as reminder.
“Everything you’ve done could come to life,” Gus said. “Be cautious about who you give your information and money to. If not having that behavior become public is a concern, then maybe think twice before you do it. Just like we tell our clients not to send nasty emails or post drunken pictures on social media. That stuff has a way of getting out.”
If you’re facing a divorce, you need the experts by your side not only developing your case, but also helping guide you through the muddy waters of social media. Contact the experienced, professional Columbus divorce attorneys at Babbitt & Dahlberg today and schedule a consultation.