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For better or worse, the Internet impacts relationships

July 29, 2015

By Margaret Ryznar
 

ryznar-margaret-mug Ryznar

About 25 years ago, not only did the Indiana Lawyer become publicly available, so did the Internet. Today, people read the Indiana Lawyer online, and many of them meet and break up using the Internet too. In just a quarter of a century, the Internet has had a huge impact at the beginning and end of people’s relationships, challenging family law to keep up.

Millions of people now turn to online dating each month. The effectiveness of online dating may be due to its search engine, which allows users to search for mates as easy as for airplane flights. With a click of a mouse, people can sort through endless candidates by any criteria they like.

The number of people meeting online may soon overtake meeting through friends, church, or family, which all have been sinking in priority due to people’s busy schedules. In one recent study, more than one in three respondents who married between 2005 and 2012 met their spouse online. Which cohort was happier with their relationships? Those who met online reported slightly higher marital satisfaction and slightly lower rates of marital breakups than those whose relationships began offline.

There’s not much law governing online dating, for better or worse. New Jersey became the first state in 2008 to regulate online dating, requiring dating sites to disclose whether they perform background checks on users, although falling short of requiring any background checks. New York, meanwhile, now requires dating services to post a safety awareness notice, and many states have followed with similar regulations.

The Internet does not stop its influence on people’s relationships after they meet. It contributes to their breakups too. For example, one survey found that Facebook is now cited in a third of divorces cases. The social networking giant not only facilitates extramarital romances, but it easily proves that they existed. In 2010, 81 percent of divorce lawyers surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers saw an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence in the last five years, with Facebook being the top source for online evidence.

Thus, just as the Internet plays a role in the beginning of many marriages, it does so at the end of many marriages too. Family law’s special challenge is keeping up with the nature of human relationships, impacted by technology in so many ways. If the past is any indicator, it is hard to say what the next 25 years hold.•

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Professor Ryznar is an associate professor of law, Dean’s Fellow and Grimes Fellow at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. She teaches family law; international and comparative family law; juvenile law; income taxation of individuals, fiduciaries and business associations; and trusts and estates. In addition to contributing to the Huffington Post, she edits the Family Law Prof Blog.

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