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Published on Oct 23, 2013

Business of ruining marriages

IF YOUR spouse starts behaving suspiciously next year, Ashley Madison could be to blame.

The dating website that facilitates extramarital affairs between married individuals plans for a launch in Singapore next year, My Paper understands.

The Canada-based website has over 21 million users worldwide. Its slogan: "Life is short. Have an affair."

Ashley Madison has already expanded to other Asian countries and territories such as Japan, and, more recently, Hong Kong in August.

Its foray into Hong Kong, where divorce cases hit a record high of 21,125 last year, was met with controversy as religious and family-planning groups criticised the website.

This is unlikely to have fazed Ashley Madison, which was launched in 2001 and has enjoyed a colourful history - offending many, but still soldiering on.

In 2010, the company approached the city of Phoenix, Arizona, with an offer of US$10 million to rename the Sky Harbor Airport to Ashley Madison International Airport over a five-year period. Even though the city was in financial trouble, it rejected the offer.

Meanwhile, Ms Trish McDermott, a consultant who helped found Match.com, accused Ashley Madison of being a "business built on the back of broken hearts, ruined marriages and damaged families".

Ashley Madison chief executive Noel Biderman has continued to push his provocative message through radio and TV commercials. It could run into roadblocks in Singapore as well.

Mr Samuel Seow, managing director of Samuel Seow Law Corporation, said that an online service such as Ashley Madison is likely to be viewed as "objectionable" by the Media Development Authority (MDA), where public interest and morality are concerned.

While the MDA has no powers to govern the content within the website if the server is not hosted in Singapore, it does have the power and the ability to block certain websites from being accessed locally, he said.

Figures from the Department of Statistics released in July showed that the annual number of divorces and annulments in Singapore fell by 4.8 per cent to 7,241 last year, the first drop in seven years.

Websites like Ashley Madison could change the picture and hurt marriages and families, said relationship experts.

Counsellor and family coach Richard Cheong said people who sign up for such services are likely to be looking for "a casual fling or a sexual encounter".

"These people could be having issues in their current relationships, but they do not want to leave their spouses," said the director of Hero Training and Consultancy. "So, they look elsewhere, to websites such as Ashley Madison, to get their needs met, even if it's only temporary."

Mr Brian Liu, a member of the National Family Council, said the website could destroy "the foundations of a family".

You've been warned. Not that the website cares.

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SOON WEI SZE AND VICTORIA BARKER