Divorces that result from infidelity outed by this week's Ashley Madison data hack will involve extra emotional hurdles that affected couples need to get over — or at least take a step back to let cooler heads prevail — so that they make the right financial moves.
“It might feel good to spend half a million dollars in an attempt to drag the spouse who had the affair through court proceedings, but it may not be a good use of their capital,” said Andrew Samalin, principal of Samalin Investment Counsel.
Personal information of the 37 million users of the AshleyMadison.com site, designed to connect people seeking extramarital affairs, was stolen by a group that wants site owner Avid Life Media to shut down it and another site designed for hookups. Thousands of member records reportedly were posted online for a time before the site, which boasts the tagline "Life is Short, Have an Affair," could have the information removed.
Karen Baer, a senior financial adviser with Triton Wealth Management, said in contentious cases when the two sides won't talk to each other, it makes the proceedings long, drawn out and especially expensive.
“When someone is emotionally wounded, it's so hard for them to set that aside and focus on what's going to serve them best in the future,” she said.
TRY TO AVOID DIVORCE COURT
Ms. Baer's firm works with clients to help them focus on the financial decisions that are most important down the road.
“Our goal is to figure out how to make it work for everyone for the future,” she said.
Couples considering divorce should research options for cheaper resolutions than divorce court, such as mediation or collaborative divorce proceedings.
Mr. Samalin, a divorce financial planner, said automatically jumping toward divorce shouldn't be the first thought if a spouse is revealed to have an account on Ashley Madison, or even if there has been actual infidelity. Talking with a mental health professional to discuss the particulars of the relationship should be the initial move, he said.
Activity on an affair website “could be a symptom of some dynamic that might be fixable in a relationship,” Mr. Samalin said.
When such relationships proceed to divorce though, the couple needs to keep in mind that each spouse's mental state may be clouded by noneconomic issues, Mr. Samalin said. Couples should differentiate between thoughts motivated by anger and distress from the cheating versus logical thinking about the economic ramifications of divorce, which is financially stressful. And they should at least consider consulting with a neutral financial adviser or other professional that both parties trust.
“It's the adviser's role to add a sense of reason and rational thought to the process and to the client,” he said.