The internet certainly has provided our society with wonderful conveniences that we use every day. Simply by typing a web site address, you can shop for new clothes at two o'clock in the morning, get directions to the best Chinese restaurant in town, reconnect with friends you haven't seen in twenty years, and complete research for a school project. However, there is also a dangerous downside to this piece of modern technology. The internet has allowed for an unprecedented level of anonymity in supposedly intimate relationships. You never really know who is sitting in front of another computer screen carrying on a conversation with you. To adults who are looking for escape from an unhappy marriage, the thrill of a stranger can seem much more appealing than the person with whom they shared vows. All too often, initial cyberspace conversations quickly evolve into online sexual encounters and perhaps more. Let's be clear. Online affairs do constitute cheating on your spouse. The betrayal and the destroyed lives could not be more real.
One of the most significant problems facing a married couple for whom internet relationships have become a point of contention is the fact that men and women are not in agreement over what constitutes inappropriate behavior on the internet. Only 46% of men believe that online affairs should be considered adultery. Instead, the majority assert that anything taking place on the computer is only harmless flirtation. After all, there is no physical touching, right? However, statistics shows that nearly one quarter of couples who begin by flirting online eventually will meet for an in-person encounter.  Over time, the satisfaction that comes from communication on the computer simply is not enough.
Even if physical contact is never made between two people who are having an online affair, the potential damage to a marriage is still quite significant. The partner who is carrying on romantic correspondence over the internet will have less time to devote to his family. Communication and intimacy with the spouse become less important because those needs are largely being met by the stranger on the computer screen.  The participant may begin to imagine a better life with his online lover and make plans to run away for a fresh start. Or, maybe the cyber-romance is taking place with a former boyfriend or girlfriend with whom you have reconnected on a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace.  If you are experiencing some difficulties in your marriage, it becomes easier to look back on a former relationship with rose-colored glasses. When you are able to fantasize that this person is whoever you need her to be, you idealize a situation that is likely to fail when placed into reality.
Unfortunately, the proliferation of online affairs has made them a factor in an increasing number of divorce cases. Divorce attorneys now report that online romances contribute to one-third of divorce litigation!  This is a startling statistic that should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that the internet offers a safe way to flirt and that surely your spouse will understand. In fact, according to practicing divorce lawyers, the relatively new practice of internet investigative services has exploded in popularity in recent years. Suspicious spouses now can hire a professional to track possible online infidelity through the use of email addresses or other information. When gathering this type of evidence, husbands and wives must be very careful. John Mayoue, a divorce attorney from Atlanta, shares that, "A spouse does have a right to privacy even from his or her own spouse. It's the most compelling evidence you'll have in a divorce case, but also the most fraught with potential liability."  Unauthorized use of a private email address is illegal and may leave any gathered evidence inadmissible, not to mention make you guilty of committing a serious crime. 
If you suspect that your spouse may be engaging in an online affair, you should consider a phone call to an experienced divorce lawyer or family law attorney as one of your first actions. You will need legal advice if you decide to pursue an investigation into your spouse's activities, and certainly will want representation should the situation ultimately lead to a divorce. There are conflicting opinions as to whether or not online affairs can be considered adultery when determining grounds for divorce in Texas , so an experienced family law attorney will be able to tell you the best approach for filing for a divorce in this situation. He or she also will guide you through every step of the sensitive process and produce a result that leaves you and any children in as good of a position as possible.
At Bertolino LLP, we have divorce and family law attorneys who specialize in the emotional issues surrounding divorce, child custody and other aspects of family law. If you need legal advice in this area, please do not hesitate to contact one of our divorce or child custody lawyers at one of our offices in Austin, Houston or San Antonio to discuss your situation.
 Perez, Michelle, "Warning Signs of an Online Affair," Snoop 411, http://snoop411.com/cheating-spouse/warning-signs-of-an-online-affair/, June 2, 2009.
 Insley, Jill, "Cyber affairs cited in breakdown of real marriages," The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2009/may/27/divorce-cyber-affairs, May 27, 2009.
 "The Truth about Internet Affairs," Squidoo.com, http://www.squidoo.com/internet-affairs, 2009.
 Cheung, Melissa, "A Private Eye for Online Affairs," CBS News, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/30/tech/main565915.shtml, July 30, 2003.
 "Social Media and Online Affairs," The Divorce Blog, http://www.totaldivorce.com/blog/2009/03/06/social-media-and-online-affairs/, March 6, 2009.
 "Texas Grounds for Divorce," DivorceSupp