Sexters Beware! Evidence of infidelity in the digital age

Unless you have been living under a rock the last few weeks, you have come across the Tiger Woods story. The car crash, the rumors of domestic violence, and, of course, the cheating. According to reports, Elin discovered the affair by going through Tiger's phone records. Jaimee Grubbs, one of Tiger's many mistresses, has come forward with more than 300 flirty, steamy text messages as evidence of the affair. As smartly phrased by Laura Holson of the New York Times, text messages are the new digital lipstick on the collar.

Tiger is not the only person of notoriety to be caught by a text message. Detroit's former major, Kwame Kilpatrick, went to jail after lying about an affair with an aide and then having sexually explicit test messages surface. Senator John Ensign was caught having an affair when his mistresses husband, who was also his aide, found text messages on Senator Ensign's phone. And the list goes on and  on.

Otherwise intelligent men and women seem to believe that the digital evidence of their trysts disappear into the ether with their texts, never to be seen again. That is, until your spouse or her attorney dig it up. Daniel Clement, of the New York Divorce Report writes:

In the end, text messages are just the latest tool in the arsenal to catch cheating spouses. Telephone records, emails and charge card receipts have long provided clues to affairs. E-Z passes and Metro-card, too, provide a time stamped trail of where someone has been. It is only time until some spouse finds his significant other “tagged” in an embrace or some other compromising position on someone’s Facebook page.

So, especially in the State of New Hampshire where divorcing spouses may plead fault grounds, sexters beware! Evidence of infidelity in the digital age is easy to find, and divorce attorneys know where to look. The evidence will most likely come to light before or during your divorce. If you do not want to be caught, refrain from the affair.

Same-sex marriage and the future of fault grounds in New Hampshire

With the same-sex marriage bill about to come to Governor Lynch’s desk, it is an appropriate time to examine the future of fault grounds in New Hampshire. Currently, New Hampshire has both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce. Only about 1% of divorces in New Hampshire are granted on the basis of fault. Of the nine fault grounds, adultery is the most common.

Adultery in New Hampshire has a very narrow definition. For the purposes of the fault ground statute, under the Blanchflower decision,

“the term “adultery” excludes all non-coital sex acts, whether between persons of the same or opposite gender. The only distinction is that person of the same gender cannot, by definition, engage in the one act that constitutes adultery under the state.”

Furthermore, the court rejected the notion that it should expand the definition of adultery to include sexual acts other than intercourse between a man and a woman because doing so would revise the established definition of adultery beyond recognition, and “it is not the function of the judiciary to provide for present needs by an extension of past legislation.”

I was before a marital master on a temporary hearing the other day, and when the issue of fault grounds came up, he pointed out that if same-sex marriage becomes law, there will be married same-sex couples who, by virtue of their sexuality, cannot commit adultery according to the law (unless they were to cheat with an opposite-sex partner). It is an interesting predicament, and something that the legislature will need to address. The legislature will need to either revise the definition of adultery to include an expanded array of sexual acts between same-sex or opposite-sex couples, or abolish fault grounds all together. Many family law attorneys would argue for the later, pointing out that fault ground divorces cost more, take longer and interfere with parents moving forward with a good co-parenting relationship. Either way, it is time for the legislature to take action on the issue.

98% of New Hampshire divorces are based on "no-fault"

Following up on my post earlier this week regarding the New Hampshire Supreme Court's recent decision in Guy, the Union Leader published an article titled "Email fall short for fault-based divorce." The article includes interesting statistics on divorce in New Hampshire based on records from the New Hampshire Division of Vital Statistics Records Administration that shows that 98% of divorces are granted for "no-fault."

  2000 2004 2008
Total Divorces 5,970 5,106 4,913
Irreconcilable Differences 5,920 5,042 4,847
Adultery 26 19 27
Extreme Cruelty 7 9 9
Abandonment 2 1 10

 

 

 

 

As the statistics show, most cases are based on "no-fault" or irreconcilable differences. In 2008, out of 4,913 divorces, only 66 were based on fault grounds (the top three being adultery, extreme cruelty, abandonment). One cause of the low rate of fault ground divorces is that most cases settle before trial and the parties agree to divorce based on irreconcilable differences. 

Additionally, even where fault grounds exist, some parties choose not to pursue them for several factors. Alleging fault grounds can dramatically increase the cost, length, and stress involved in a divorce. When deciding whether to file for fault grounds, it is important to consider the reason for seeking the fault grounds, what the fault grounds will accomplish and whether it will damage a co-parenting relationship.

IMO Guy: Fault divorce for endangering health or reasons requires more than anger and hurt feelings

The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently held In the Matter of Joni Guy and Daniel Guy on March 5, 2009 that in order to prove a fault-based divorce for endangering health or reason, the innocent spouse must prove that there has been more than just hurt feelings and anger. This holding raises the standard and makes this type of fault based divorce much harder to prove.  

Joni filed for divorce citing the fault grounds (NH RSA 458:7 ) of conduct endangering her health and reason, adultery, and habitual drunkenness. Alternatively, she sought a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences. (458:7-a. ) The trial court dismissed the grounds of habitual drunkenness and adultery but granted Joni the divorce on the fault grounds of conduct endangering Joni’s health and reason. The exact language of 458:7(V) is: When either party has so treated the other as seriously to injure health or endanger reason. Daniel appealed the final divorce decree based arguing that the trial court had made an error by granting Joni the fault based divorce.

 

The NH Supreme Court examined the meaning and standard of conduct that would be considered to injure an innocent spouse’s health and endanger their reason. The court determined that any behavior of one party which affects the other physically or mentally is treatment within the meaning of the statute. The opinion goes on to state that while the statute does not require proof of conduct that would have affected an average reasonable person, it does require proof that the health or reason of the complaining spouse was actually affected.  

 

The court scrutinized the conduct that Joni alleged caused her injury to her health and reason. Joni alleged that e-mails between Daniel and a former girlfriend which spoke of their love for each other and were sexually suggestive caused her to feel  “angry, upset and distraught”.

 

The court determined that this type of conduct is insufficient to constitute treatment that arises to the level of seriousness required by the statute. Feeling angry, upset and distraught does not constitute serious injury to one’s health or endangerment to one’s reason. The conduct at issue did not harm Joni’s physical well-being. Nor did it cause her to suffer the type of mental anguish the statute was intended to encompass. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and sent the case back  to the trial court for further proceedings.

 

Crusco Law Office, PLLC Law Clerk Marisa Ulloa contributed to this post.