Uh oh… Ashley Madison’s Caused A Problem…

So, it turns out that marital infidelity, or the specter of it, is one of the most prominent reasons why marriages are broken up- no secret there. And in the super-convenient world in which we live, where everything can be found at the click of a mouse, it should come as no surprise that there is a website, AshleyMadison.com, that caters to individuals who are actively looking to stray outside the bounds of their marriage.

The website’s tag line, “Life is short- have an affair” leaves very little to the imagination, and the website’s landing page featuring an attractive brunette with a forefinger over her pursed lips is a clear indication of the secretive nature of the “relationships” that might originate on the site.

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Ashley Madison, in subtle fashion, invites users to “have an affair.”

It would stand to reason that, for those who would choose to pursue that lifestyle, and would provide AM with their name, address, credit card info, email address, and other clearly identifiable information, there would be a reasonable expectation that the website would keep their information secure and private. But, due to a shocking case of corporate espionage by online hackers, and AM’s subsequent refusal to submit to their demands that the dating site be shut down, they have made good on their threat to release the private information of millions of their users.

The ramifications have been immediate and far-reaching. Josh Duggar, he of the former reality TV show “19 Kids and Counting”, confessed to being “…the biggest hypocrite ever…” after his information was found to be on the dating site. Shockingly, there are several congressional and White House-related email addresses that are among those in the data dump.

And family law attorneys the world over are preparing for what some are calling “Christmas in September” and “Black Friday”. Callers to a prominent New York-based family law practice are having difficulty getting through; according to an employee at the firm, “The attorneys are unavailable because there are so many people calling right now. You’ll have to call back later.”

So… what does it all mean?

We would never seek to take advantage of someone in a difficult situation, and a potential divorce, regardless of the reason, is traumatic and a life-changer for both parties, regardless of who is at fault. Our recommendation is always going to be to attempt to “weather the storm”, bearing in mind that many relationship experts agree that an affair is merely a symptom of a problem in a relationship, and that, while difficult, fixing the problem can result in a couple experiencing years of marital bliss with an affair safely in the rear-view mirror.

However, if you do find yourself in the position where you are seriously contemplating a divorce, there are some realities that you need to consider. While this should NOT be construed as legal advice, and your interests would be best served by consulting a family law attorney, it is generally accepted that if either you or your spouse owns an interest in a business, and you live in a community property state, the value of that interest is one of the items that needs to be separated between the parties.

What’s your action plan, then, should you, or someone you know, be facing this unfortunate situation?

  1. Get an attorney. Quickly. Several issues will need to be determined and decided on, and your attorney will be much better placed to help you through the next several months.
  2. If you or your spouse own an interest in a business, get it valued. While so many of the issues that you will be facing will be charged with emotion, obtaining a proper, objective value of the business interest might be one of the most important issues to be determined in the process.
  3. Beware of “quick and dirty” valuations. Understandably, with the cost of retaining an attorney looming on the horizon, there might be a hesitation to engage with another professional in this process. However, there are several issues specific to a valuation in support of a divorce that require the experience of a seasoned valuation specialist to be navigated.

The total value of the business; any minority discounts or control premiums; the presence of goodwill; given the existence of goodwill, how much of it is personal, and therefore attributable to the business owner; any/all of these might apply to your specific situation, and failing to deal with them in an appropriate manner might leave you in a position where your best interests are not being served.

I have personally seen instances (and been involved with a couple) where a business owner’s interests were not adequately served, because s/he did not bother to hire a valuation expert to ascertain the value of a business at the heart of a divorce proceeding.

For you, or the person who you know, who might be facing the unfortunate situation where a spouse’s name showed up on the Ashley Madison site, or if your marriage or the marriage of someone you know is similarly challenged with its own mortality, bite the bullet and speak to someone about your options- you owe it to yourself.

And if your series of questions includes what to do about a business interest in the marriage, please feel free to contact us for a confidential, obligation-free assessment of your situation.

To paraphrase Ashley Madison: “Life is short; be true to yourself.”

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