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TOPIC TITLE: Divorce, Morality & the Internet: Cause or Effect?
Created On 7/24/13 5:41 PM
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7/24/13 5:41 PM
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(Originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Mind, Body & Soul)

By: Martin E. Friedlander, Esq.


In today’s society is the internet causing divorces? The answer to this question is an unequivocal, “yes.” In the community at large and specifically the Orthodox community, authors and lecturers constantly forewarn the many dangers that the internet poses to children. Very little information, however, is published as to the danger that adults face while using the internet and viewing online pornography and the harmful effects that the internet has on marriages.

People who would not be seen in Times Square, if their lives depended on it, for fear of being seen in that environment, can easily access all of the lures of that environment, and worse, with the click of a mouse, in the comfort of their home or business setting, without the accompanying embarrassment. Unfortunately, all of society, including the Orthodox community, has been plagued by this epidemic and its harmful effects. Immorality has now become rampant and has infiltrated the Orthodox and charedi communities as the number of divorces based on it has risen significantly.

MENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVE:

The people who view and frequent inappropriate sites are addicts. Any mental health professional will unequivocally state that constantly viewing such content, sites, and videos negatively affects one’s mindset, decisions, and interactions with his/her children and all personal relationships. In a countless number of legal cases involving excessive internet usage, experts have presented data which reveals that the people engaged in this activity all contain a manifest level of addiction. Many people who are addicted to the internet spend hours browsing the internet searching terms that we hope are not in the vocabulary of a yeshiva educated individual. There are cases in the Courts in which Orthodox people have surfed these sites even on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. There are also people who cannot turn off their computer at the outset of the Sabbath, so that they can feed their addiction throughout the Sabbath. Computer experts who had access to internet addicts’ computers also remarked at the extent of this phenomenon.
Inappropriate computer usage and acts of immorality have not been limited to gender, as it affects both men and women within the community.

STATISTICS ON INTERNET USAGE:

Surprisingly, the United States Senate heard testimony concerning internet pornography usage and its effects on divorce and custody determinations. Dr. Mary Anne Layden of the University of Pennsylvania indicated before the United States Senate at a hearing relating to internet usage in 2005 that 40% of people addicted to the internet will lose their spouse, 58% will suffer several financial loss and 27%-40% will lose their jobs or profession.
Psychologist Janice Abrams has noted an explosion of online extra marital affairs due to its accessibility and anonymous nature. More than half of the population uses the internet and 20-33% go online for these pursuits.

In 2001, a survey of 15-17 year old teenagers showed that 70% of the participants accidentally viewed pornography on the internet. Jennifer Schneider, an authority on internet usage, is quoted as saying that “the internet is the crack cocaine of s*xual addiction.”

As an attorney, I review and am presented with these matters regularly and wonder why we are encountering cases of immorality that were not present ten years ago. What does this reveal about our society and the morals that we claim are the foundation of our lives? Anyone who believes this is an exaggeration should visit the Matrimonial Courts in any densely populated Orthodox community.

In 2003, at the meeting of the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, two thirds of the matrimonial lawyers who were present stated that the internet played a significant role in divorces in the past year and that online pornography accounts for over half of those instances. The president of the Academy stated that pornography “had an almost non-existent role in divorce seven to eight years ago”.

While researching the topic, I found an interesting case in the South Dakota Supreme Court , in which the Court took an unprecedented step by barring the mother, who was awarded residential custody of her child, from using the internet during the course of the divorce proceedings except for business. The husband was victorious in barring his wife from using the internet because he provided proof that his wife engaged in explicit internet exchanges, which were then followed by infidelity in the marital home.

SYMPTOMS OF INTERNET ADDICTION:

It is important for people to become aware of this predicament plaguing our society and be able to detect when someone is suffering from an internet addiction in order to help that person seek help and to rectify/save a marriage. Dr. Young indicates that many family/marital therapists are unfortunately not proficient in treating this addiction. There are, however, common symptoms indicative of internet addiction, such as spending excessive time on the computer and becoming very defensive when the other spouse comes near the computer or enters the room where the computer is located.

In an article written by Kimberly Young, Alvin Cooper, and Eric Griffiths-Shelley, which discusses internet addiction and compulsivity, they refer to the ACE (Anonymity, Convenience, and Escape) model of internet addiction.

Ms. Young found that 53% of the 396 case studies of internet addicts interviewed had serious relationship issues. Anonymity: The article noted how men who would not enter certain stores and women who would not call 900 numbers have absolutely no compulsion in using the internet for inappropriate reasons because it allows them to secretly engage in that which is forbidden. Convenience: Furthermore, the convenience of the internet allows people to engage in this activity without ever leaving the comfort of one’s office, home, or den. Escape: The escape from reality allows people to engage in fantasies which unfortunately may end up a reality.

Furthermore, telltale signs of the addiction include a change in one’s sleeping patterns, staying up late or rising arly in the morning, and in the aims of attaining some time alone with the computer, household chores are ignored, lies begin to abound, and the individual’s personality changes. Declining interest and investment in the husband/wife and family relationship is often a result of internet addiction. Financial ruin can serve as a possible precondition to immoral internet activity.

There has been movement within the psychology profession to classify internet addiction in the DSM-IV. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides diagnostic criteria for mental disorders.

Conversations with Rabbis, community leaders, and matrimonial attorneys reveal that the current statistics relating to divorce based on excessive internet usage, pornography, infidelity, and immorality is staggering and has now infiltrated what was always perceived as the insulated Orthodox chareidi community.

The hurt one spouse suffers after being confronted with the user’s habitual online browsing of inappropriate material is undoubtedly a cause of divorce; the awareness is accompanied by a feeling of unfaithfulness and disgust, which attacks the core of the marriage.

In my years of practice in the matrimonial field, I have seen a wide spectrum of unfortunate cases involving internet usage. Despite claims that Orthodox Jews are an insular community, the causes of divorce are universal and not limited by the constraints of religion or level of religious observance.

Countless families with children have been destroyed by the internet and in many cases children are unfortunately aware of the reasons behind their parents’ divorce and are as a result, exposed to this immoral behavior. The lesson children learn from their parents’ behavior can only handicap their development and religious growth.

CONCLUSION:

The internet infidelity epidemic is rampant and is plaguing the lives of countless individuals and families alike. There needs to be a concrete proposal to address this issue at hand. Any proposal ban would require the efforts and support of Synagogues, Community Rabbis, and our community at large, along with the input of computer experts so that a proper plan may be implemented.

The convenience and anonymity that the internet unfortunately provides for people has created an environment allowing individuals to use the internet freely and without restrictions, and a strong deterrent has therefore become exceedingly necessary in today’s computer age. One which must incorporate immediate counseling for those addicted. We as a community must come together and incorporate workable remedies.

Martin Friedlander P.C. is a firm specializing in matrimonial matters in both Supreme Courts and Beis Din. Martin E. Friedlander, Esq. is a musmach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, received Semicha (Rabbinical Ordination) from Rav Pam, ztzl, and is a Talmud of Rav Yisroel Belsky, Shlita. He is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School and has lectured extensively on matrimonial matters, he is also the former Co-Chair of the Family Law Section of the Brooklyn Bar Association.
 
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