Blog: Virtual Adultery: The World of Cyber Cheating

By: Micala MacRae, Associate Notes & Comments Editor

A virtual adultery epidemic has swept the nation. Online chat rooms, Facebook, twitter and other forms of social media have enabled individuals to make virtual connections that some argue are grounds for divorce.  In 1996, a New Jersey man filed for divorce based on adultery after discovering that his wife had been carrying on a “virtual” affair with a man in North Carolina through online chat rooms.[1]  Although the wife never met her cyber-paramour in person the relationship began to take over their lives and she began to neglect her job, family, and marriage.[2]  In the United States the courts have refused to hold virtual relationships reach the level of intimacy necessary for adultery.  Adultery is defined as intimate sexual activity outside of marriage.  However, virtual infidelity has become an increasingly important issue in Family Law.

Virtual infidelity can eventually lead a party to act.  If a spouse travels to meet an online partner in person, courts may infer adultery without much difficulty.  Courts have taken into consideration parents’ excessive time spent online on interactive gaming websites when determining child custody.[3]  When parents are not providing adequate support and care for their children due to their exorbitant time online courts infer from this they have relinquished their parental responsibilities.[4]  Courts may eventually see virtual infidelity as a renouncement of parental duties in divorce proceedings awarding the spouse who did not participate in the virtual infidelity full custody of the children.

Though courts have held virtual infidelity does not satisfy grounds for divorce it may satisfy other requirements such as neglect or abandonment.[5]  The spouse carrying out a virtual relationship abandons the marital relationship and the family when he or she spends great periods of time pursing the virtual relationship.  Many courts are willing to accept that sexual activity that is not proven to rise to the level of intercourse can still constitute legal adultery.[6]  Some courts even disapprove of emotional affairs, which are almost analogous to virtual adultery.

Although virtual infidelity may never involve physical contact courts may rule these virtual relationships that lead to the degradation of the marital relationship are grounds for divorce.  Online infidelity may qualify as adultery when the conduct is a substantial factor in the breakdown of the marriage.  Courts may expand the definition of adultery to include virtual infidelity as a factor in determining whether a divorce should be granted.  The law is behind the pace of technology and the evolution of views on marriage and infidelity.  It may be time to expand the law of adultery to include virtual infidelity, so that relief can be afforded to the victims.

 

[1] Douglas E. Abrams et al., Contemporary Family Law (3rd ed. 2012)

[2] Id.

[3] Andrew Feldstein, Is Cybersex Grounds for Divorce?, Huffingtonpost.com, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-feldstein/is-cybersex-grounds-for-d_b_4555583.html (last updated Mar. 10, 2014).

[4] Id.

[5] Edward Nelson, Virtual Infidelity: A Ground for Divorce, Examiner.com, (Sept. 11, 2010, 4:18 PM), http://www.examiner.com/article/virtual-infidelity-a-ground-for-divorce.

[6] Id.

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