Around half of all marriages in the United Stated end in divorce, and some reports estimate that the growing phenomenon of cyber infidelity now plays a role in nearly one-third of divorce cases. But does cybersex have official legal standing, and can it be used as grounds for divorce?
Currently, it depends in whom you ask. The courts in Canada, for example, have ruled that cyber-infidelity, if it is entirely virtual and does not include real life sexual encounters, does not meet the legal definition of adultery and cannot be used as grounds for an immediate divorce. Canadians who want to divorce a partner who has had a virtual affair need to live apart from their partner for one year before they will be granted a legal divorce.
In the U.S., there are differing opinions. Courts in a number of states, including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Michigan and Virginia, have decided that cybersex can be used as legal grounds for divorce. In many other states, cyber infidelity has not been accepted as sufficient grounds for divorce on its own.
Differing Opinions on Infidelity
Courts are not the only source of disagreement on whether cyber cheating is “real” infidelity. Even people who have online sexual encounters do not all agree about whether their actions mean they are cheating on their partner. One study found that 60 percent of people having cybersex did not consider themselves unfaithful, while 40 percent admitted to believing that they were cheating.
The people whose partners have had online affairs tend to have much more uniform views on the subject. The majority of them agree that the emotional impact of a partner’s cyber infidelity is similar to “in real life” cheating, and is morally wrong.
Some people who engage in cybersex outside their relationship argue that such acts not only don’t qualify as cheating, but also actually help them to stay faithful by adding excitement and diversity to their sex life. However, more than one survey has found that cyber infidelity leads to real-life infidelity a very high percentage of the time. This is not true in every case, but people whose partners argue that cybersex is not a danger to their relationship should be wary of the statistics.
The Evolution of Cybersex
As the nature of cybersex continues to evolve and expand, it may begin to achieve greater legal standing in more places. Gone are the days when online cheating was limited to flirting in chat rooms, and the term “sexting” had yet to be coined. Modern cyber cheaters can send and receive explicit pictures, have virtual sex using avatars in online role-playing games, engage with online sexual partners through video streaming, and even use “teledildonics” to sync sexual stimulation devices to the actions of other real people.
Technology is almost certainly going to continue to evolve so that “virtual” sexual encounters become more and more like the real thing. As this happens, it will almost certainly force institutions that have so far dismissed cybersex to reevaluate its standing under divorce law.
Other Consequences of Virtual Affairs
Just because cyber-infidelity is not considered legal grounds for divorce in many places does not necessarily mean that the party who engages in cybersex will come out even in divorce proceedings. Some couples include cybersex in prenuptial agreements, and violating that agreement can mean serious financial penalties. Cyber infidelity can also be taken into account when it comes to granting custody of any children. Even if a court did not consider cyber cheating legal grounds for divorce, a history of cyber cheating may help to convince the court to give full or majority custody to the parent who was cheated on.
Ultimately, people who are victims of cyber infidelity let a legal definition determine their response. Those who feel betrayed and devastated by cyber cheating or believe that their partner’s behavior crossed a line should feel justified in responding as strongly as any other person whose partner had an affair.