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Is Virtual Infidelity Grounds for a Divorce?

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What are the Impacts of a Cyber-Affair on Divorce Proceedings?

Technology is ever-present in today’s society. Between work and home computers, gaming devices, and phones, many people spend as much (or more!) time in front of a screen as they do with friends and family. While the relationships that people make online are often benign and positive, there has unfortunately been a recent drastic increase in the number of couples citing cyber-cheating as one of the reasons for the breakdown of their marriage. They claim their partner’s online relationship, including messages, sexting, or video dates, was emotionally devastating and irretrievably broke their trust.

Undoubtedly, an emotional affair like virtual infidelity can destroy a relationship. But can a cyber-affair be used as grounds for a Canadian divorce? An experienced divorce lawyer can explain the court’s stance on these behaviors and how they could affect your divorce proceedings.

What are the Three Grounds for Divorce in Ontario?

Ontario’s Divorce Act lists three valid reasons for a divorce:

  • Living separately for at least one year prior to the start of the divorce proceedings.
  • The commission of adultery by the other spouse during the marriage.
  • Suffering acts of mental or physical cruelty that make it impossible to continue living together.

Of these grounds, the first is considered a no-fault grounds for divorce. If you have lived separately for a year, you do not need to show misconduct on the part of your spouse to receive a divorce. The other two grounds require you to provide the court with sufficient evidence of your spouse’s harmful actions before your divorce will be granted. The court’s standards for the evidence can be quite stringent, and litigation in these cases can be complicated and contentious.

What is Virtual Infidelity?

In general, infidelity is any action that violates your marriage contract and causes a threat to the bond between you and your spouse. Many people think of infidelity in terms of sexual or emotional affairs. Virtual infidelity covers a wide range of behaviors that may combine aspects of both sexual and emotional infidelity in an online space.

Typically, these relationships are conducted secretly, and their discovery is a shock to the other spouse. Examples of virtual infidelity may include:

  • Texting or sexting
  • Communicating over messaging apps and chat rooms
  • Engaging in cybersex through video or other applications
  • Creating transactional relationships through OnlyFans or other adult websites

The definition of virtual infidelity can vary widely, and many people who engage in these actions do not consider it cheating because there has been no physical contact. However, the emotional and mental damage caused by cyber affairs can be devastating and may cause an irreparable rift in a marriage.

Is Virtual Infidelity Adultery?

It may appear that cyber-affairs could be considered adultery. However, Canada’s courts have ruled otherwise. Adultery is legally defined as engaging in any type of physical, sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse while you are still married. Because virtual infidelity does not include a physical component, it is not considered adultery and cannot be cited as grounds for a divorce.

In some instances, an online relationship may lead to real-world encounters. In these situations, the relationship may be deemed adulterous if in-person sexual activities have occurred. If the relationship is purely online, then typically, the best course of action for the injured spouse to obtain a divorce is to move into separate living quarters for a year so they are eligible to file for a no-fault divorce. However, if you are in this difficult situation, you should consult with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer to explore the options available to you.

Could Your Partner’s Online Activities Affect the Outcome of Your Divorce?

Although virtual infidelity may not be grounds for a divorce, it may play a role in your divorce proceedings. Many people having online affairs spend significant time alone in front of their devices, often to the detriment of their families. If your spouse’s online relationship took precedence over spending time with their children, the court may consider this when determining custody arrangements.

Virtual infidelity can also involve a spouse spending significant amounts of money on subscriptions, internet services, and gifts to the object of their affection. While this may not have a major effect on the division of property or child support proceedings, these actions could be viewed negatively by the court due to their impact on the family’s finances. When taken as part of the whole story of the divorce, the harmful acts of the unfaithful spouse may shift the court’s determinations more in favor of the petitioning party.

Can You Take Legal Action Against the Other Person Involved in the Online Infidelity?

Some jurisdictions allow civil suits for “alienation of affection.” Essentially, the spouse of someone who cheated may be able to sue the other individual involved in the affair.

A successful claim usually involves proving that the relationship would have continued without incident if the outside individual had not seduced their partner and caused them to be unfaithful. However, these types of claims are not allowed under Canadian law, leaving victims of cyber-affairs with no legal recourse for obtaining damages.

How Can a Divorce Lawyer Assist You?

Finding out your spouse has engaged in virtual infidelity can be heartbreaking and may ultimately destroy the bond of trust between you and your spouse. Although the act is not considered adultery by Canadian courts and cannot be used as grounds for divorce, it can still play a key part in the outcome of your split. A compassionate, experienced divorce lawyer from Anthony Family Law can guide you through the necessary steps for obtaining a dissolution of your marriage following the betrayal of a cyber-affair. Contact our law firm today for a free case evaluation: 647-933-2397.

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