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Alimony, Infidelity and Divorce: What’s the Price of Adultery Today?

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Everything has a price – especially in affairs of the heart. Sometimes you pay in dollars. Sometimes you pay in emotional turmoil. Often you pay in both. For better or for worse, alimony, infidelity and divorce are often hopelessly intertwined. When they happen to be wrapped around your life, you likely can’t help but wonder: What’s the price of adultery?

The Emotional Price of Adultery

It goes without saying that having an affair can destroy your marriage. While plenty of couples rebound from infidelity, just as many (probably more) don’t. A spouse’s affair is often the death knell for a marriage.

Even in those marriages that survive an affair, a spouse’s cheating destroys the trust that formed the foundation for the relationship. While that trust can be rebuilt, most couples don’t have the stomach or the stamina to try to do so.  That's especially true if their marriage was flagging long before the affair took place.

But, adultery does more than just devastate your marriage, and your heart. When adultery leads to divorce, it wreaks havoc on your finances too. Fortunately or unfortunately -- depending upon which side of the affair you’re on -- marital infidelity doesn’t have nearly as big of an impact on the financial side of divorce as it once did.

The Legal Price of Adultery

Historically, adultery is one of the oldest grounds for divorce. In many countries, adultery was punishable by death. Adultery still is punishable by death in several countries in the Middle East and Africa.

It is also still a crime in many states in the United States. But, adultery is rarely, if ever, prosecuted any more.

In addition to being a crime, adultery may also form the basis for civil lawsuits in many states. Again, however, such cases are rarely pursued today. When they are pursued, they are even more rarely successful.

In today’s world, the place where adultery has its biggest effect is in divorce. Yet, even that effect is waning.

When divorce was based on “fault,” proving your spouse was unfaithful was often the key to getting a divorce. If both spouses were faithful, the law didn’t allow you to get divorced, no matter how miserable you were. (That is, of course, unless you could prove that your spouse had done something else that warranted divorce – like subjecting you to mental or physical cruelty.)

But now that “irreconcilable differences” is recognized as a ground for divorce, you no longer have to “catch your spouse in the act” in order to end your marriage. Even still, depending upon which state you live in, adultery can still play a significant role in divorce.

Loving couple in the park with a jealous woman looking on in the background. Infidelity and divorce concept.

The Effect of Adultery on Divorce

With the advent of no-fault divorce, seeking a divorce based upon adultery became less and less common. While scorned spouses still may get emotional satisfaction from filing divorce papers that publicly proclaim that their spouse cheated on them, there is little legal reason to pursue that kind of claim.

Infidelity generally has no impact on custody, child support, or parenting time at all. The only time a spouse’s affair will affect  the "kid issues" in divorce is when the affair itself directly affected the kids.

That rarely happens.

Unless your spouse dragged your two year old into a brothel, your spouse’s infidelity probably didn't directly harm your kids.

Adultery also rarely affects the division of property in divorce. In almost all states, the fact that one spouse cheated does not normally mean that the other spouse gets a bigger piece of the marital pie. There is, however, one exception to this rule: dissipation.

Dissipation

Dissipation is a legal concept that means that one spouse spent marital money for a non-marital purpose. Translated, that means that one spouse spent money on his/her affair partner.

While going after your spouse for all the money s/he spent on someone else sounds totally fair, in practice, proving dissipation can be tedious and expensive.

Money tree with leaves/money blowing away due to dissipation.

Even when your state (like Illinois) provides that, once you allege dissipation, your spouse must prove that s/he DIDN’T dissipate marital assets, dissipation is still a tricky legal issue.  It often requires you to spend days scouring credit card bills and sifting through boxes of old receipts.

Sometimes, your efforts pay off. Sometimes you find the “smoking gun.” You find the receipt that proves your spouse took a $20,000 trip to some exotic place with his/her paramour.

More often than not you find a few scattered restaurant bills and maybe a receipt for some flowers. When that’s all you’ve got, the price you pay in attorney’s and accountant’s fees is often way more than the dissipation you found.

Of course, if your spouse has been living a double life for years, the dissipation in your divorce can be significant. The same thing is true if your spouse started living with his/her “sweetie” long ago. In those kinds of cases, proving dissipation can be well worth the effort.

Alimony, Infidelity and Divorce

The one aspect of divorce in which your spouse’s infidelity can still have a sizeable impact is in the area of spousal support. Even still, the impact that it has is still way less than what it had in the past.

In a little less than half of the states, your spouse’s misconduct (i.e. adultery) has no impact on alimony whatsoever. It doesn’t affect whether your spouse has to pay alimony, how much s/he has to pay, or how long s/he has to pay it.

In a very small number of states, your spouse’s adultery has a huge impact on alimony. For example, in North Carolina, if the court finds that the paying spouse committed adultery, the court shall order that spouse to pay alimony to the dependent spouse. If the dependent spouse committed adultery, then s/he cannot receive alimony.

Most states, however, consider adultery only as one factor in the decision of whether to award alimony. The laws in several of those states specifically state that alimony cannot be used to punish an adulterous spouse. The adultery is simply one of many factors a court may – or may not – decide to consider when deciding whether to award alimony.

Closeup of upset beautiful woman whose husband is cheating

The Bottom Line When It Comes to Infidelity and Divorce

Few things in life hurt more than discovering that your spouse has been cheating on you. When infidelity destroys your marriage, it’s only natural that you want to use your spouse’s bad acts to punish your spouse.

That seems only fair.

Yet, the law has evolved to a point where, in most states, your spouse’s infidelity will have little or no impact on the financial aspects of your divorce.

That may or may not seem fair to you. Either way, the law is what it is.

For better or for worse, your spouse’s infidelity may have ruined your marriage. But it’s not likely to make a huge difference in your divorce. 

Karen Covy

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Arbitrator and a Collaborative Divorce Professional. She coaches people to make hard decisions with confidence, and navigate divorce with dignity. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


Tags

adultery, alimony, cheating, divorce advice, divorce blog


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  • Thank you for your blog. It is very informative. I am in one of the states that it doesn’t matter that my spouse committed adultery. I think that is so unfair. Esp given the circumstances.

  • I AM A 100% SERVICE-CONNECTED VETERAN AND PERMANENT AND TOTAL DISABLED, I HAVE BEEN AROUND MY ESTRANGED WIFE IN OVER 35+ YEARS SHE ABANDONED ME AFTER WE WHERE MARRIED WHILE I WAS INCARCERATED FOR 26 YEARS. SHE HAD CHILDREN THAT ARE NOW GROWN WHILE WE ARE STILL MARRIED AND SHE IS FILING CLAIMS AGAINST ME TO TAKE MONEY FOR MY DISABILITY COMPENSATION, NOW SINCE SHE HAD CHILDREN WITH OTHER MEN ISN’T THAT CONSIDERED INFIDELITY OR ADULTERY, WOULDN’T THAT BE GROUNDS FOR A ANNULMENT. I DON’T LIVE IN THE SAME STATE AS HER OR EVEN HAVE ANY INFORMATION ABOUT HER, ALSO NEVER HAVE WE EVER LIVED TOGETHER OR PURCHASED ANYTHING TOGETHER IT’S LIKE A PIECE OF PAPER THAT SHOULD NOT EVEN BE VALID.

    • I’m sorry but what you are asking are legal questions. I can’t answer legal questions online or outside of the state of Illinois.

      You’re going to have to find a good divorce lawyer in your state and ask your questions of him/her.

      Sorry.

  • Im in the process of filing for divorce. He has been living with another woman while being married to me. We have been married for 7 years and got separated a year later. Since then he has moved another woman in and she has been living with him for 6 years now while im still single

      • I’ve been married 53 years when my husband began seeing another woman, walked out and filed for divorce. We live in Pennsylvania. I understand I live in a “no fault” state but have been told the length of my marriage and my age (71) will factor heavily in the courts decision as to amount of alimony I will receive.
        Do you agree?

  • I told my wife 6 months ago (November, 2018) that I wanted a divorce after 15 years of marriage. I/We can answer “yes” to many of the questions you asked in “Should I be getting divorced”. This also coincided with a relationship developing between myself and another woman. I left my the home because it was not emotionally practical (we have two teenage children). I moved in with a relative and I’m paying a minimal amount for living expenses. She is in a very troubled emotional state and very much in denial. She’s still asking for a reconciliation despite my ongoing relationship. There is a 100% certainty this will never happen. Our home has very little equity and my goal all along was to put my wife in a position that she and kids can keep home and she can refinance with my inevitable support. I have continued making the 1st/2nd mortgage, insurance payments and pay my vehicle payments. Our family medical coverage is paid for by me. Additionally I’ve paid for much of my children’s activities and expenses plus give her money out of each paycheck. 20% of my income comes in the form of semi-annual “bonus”. Since January my financial contribution for above monthly payments (excluding health insurance) has been roughly 75% of my net bi-weekly income. I anticipate the first of the two semi-annual bonuses this month. My question is general. Does my current level of support seem reasonable? I feel it’s very fair and most definitely exceeds what she can anticipate in post-divorce support/maintenance and most likely in pre-divorce temporary financial agreement. She feels I’m hiding money (I’m not). My direct deposits have continued going into our joint accounts. I pay the mortgages/auto loan/insurance out of joint account, but did open my own account to keep things cleaner. I haven’t filed yet because I’m trying to pay down this 2nd mortgage to build some additional equity. Also, money is very tight for both of us under the circumstances. Given the percentage of my net income I’m using to pay for the home, (generally speaking) how much of the bonus (expect $10K net) should I offer. My goal from the outset has been to be fair (to the point of despite very erratic, obsessive and destructive (kids against me) behavior throughout our separation.

    • It sounds like you’re really trying to do the right thing. I applaud you for that!

      Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the amount of your bonus you should/shouldn’t pay your ex for support. That question has legal implications, so I can’t answer it online. I suggest you find a good divorce lawyer near you and ask those questions of him/her.

      As for whether your current household contributions are “fair” in a general non-legal way, all I can say is that, based upon what you’ve written, it seems like you’re doing your best to make sure all of your financial obligations, as well as those of your wife and kids, are being met. That’s awesome! The bigger question, though, is how long you will be able to keep doing what you’re doing. Right now you’re living with a relative. But presumably, you don’t want to do that for the rest of your life.

      I strongly suggest you talk with a financial planner or a divorce financial planner, as well as a lawyer, to see what your realistic options are, both for now and for the future.

      I wish you the best.

      Karen

      • “ It sounds like you’re really trying to do the right thing. I applaud you for that”
        That says everything about how little importance values, morals and compassion have today. Right thing? A person leaves a spouse after 15 years, sees that she is in extreme emotional turmoil, gets the entire family in financial distress, including jeopardizing his own kids financial and emotional future. All in the name of his own “happiness”. One of my friends daughter just tried to commit suicide after experiencing the same situation. But as long as daddy is happy with his new “love of his life”, who cares?

  • I read your article about how adulterous relationships while married have no legal standing in divorce cases. Have you heard of positive rulings when the offending spouse conduct: cohabitating with a bf before divorce is final, has caused documented emotional distress in one of our children. Her conduct of dating, cohabitating, and drinking has grossly violated our family sincerely held religious beliefs. Have you beat of this being weighed as a factor ?
    Thanks

    • If a spouse’s conduct affects children it may be a factor in deciding the issues related to the children in divorce. BUT, whether and how it will affect the children’s issues in your divorce, or any other issues in your divorce, depends on what the laws of your state are. I suggest you talk to a lawyer in your state to get the answers you’re looking for. That will be your best bet.

    • Ive been married to the same man for 30 yrs. Last year he left n persued a relationship with a coworker. He begged to come back after 3 months of living with her , n not telling me of his idea to seperate i still took him back. Little did i know he continued to see her n got her pregnant while living with me. I agreed to stay as long as he met with my conditions n stopped seeing her n care just for the child.well the child was just born with health problems n he took out insurance for the baby n has been providing the woman with money n gifts like getting her car fixed buying her a phone n helping with her other 2 children from other relationships. We dont own any property n he makes just enough to cover our rent n a couple of bills. How do i go about filing n still get him to pay my bills because due to all the stress n hurt ive gone through in this last year ive had 3-4 breakdows n been placed on medication for severe depression n anxiety. He tried to commit suicide n my daughter n i got him down . i cant take the stress any longer .what do i file for and what am i entitled to in my situation?

      • I’m sorry. I wish I could help you, but you’re asking legal questions and I can’t give legal advice online or outside of the state of Illinois. You’ll have to ask a good divorce lawyer in your area those questions.

  • My friend has been married for 33 years to here active duty husband , they bought a house in their home town waiting for his retirement, they raised 4 children and adopted a baby a few a months old. A choice they made together, she has the child all the time. The child is now 10. She and they’re child currently live in the house , he is stationed somewhere else. They go to surprise him and yo make a long story short She catchs him with a 20 year old he is 48 . She just joined the military so yea she’s a a private . He is well , let’s just say many ranks higher than her. She hardly worked because She was at stay home mom Allowing and letting him pursue a career while She was “ just doing her job as a parent”. Now he refinance they’re home She is tricked into signing what I’m told by the closing agent and him that they are just refinance papers. Find out later she had waived her rights to their home. Now they’re home is used for a lot of extra cash used to purchase them a condominium. In both their names. She also found an extra vehicle in his name but it’s hers she has it all the time and is listed as a secretly as a driver. yep she found their loop holes. It made her temporary insane, and was in the physic ward for a week.. now what’s her best course of action?
    Infidelity, dissipatra, infidelity, child support, .. WHAT??

    • Her best course of action is to get a good divorce lawyer AND a therapist asap. She needs help. I can’t give legal advice online or outside the state of Illinois. But she definitely needs legal advice. (And, if she can find a good divorce lawyer in her area who also knows something about military benefits that would be a HUGE plus!)

      Her husband already tricked her into signing away her rights in the house (which may or may not be true, btw. She needs to talk to a lawyer about that!). But a leopard doesn’t change its spots. She needs to start getting her legal ducks in a row as soon as possible.

      Meanwhile, she also needs to get her wits about her. To do that she’s going to need a good therapist. She needs someone she can talk with AT LEAST once a week. (If she doesn’t have a therapist, or can’t find one right away, have her check out BetterHelp. It’s the world’s largest online therapist provider.)

      Your friend needs help. The best thing you can do is to make sure she gets it.

      Best,

      Karen

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