One common reason for divorce is adultery. Adultery is when one partner cheats on the other partner by having extramarital sex with someone else. It could have been a one-night stand or it could be that the unfaithful partner is in a long-term relationship with the other man or woman. Not all marriages that go through adultery end in divorce; in fact, one of the top reasons to visit a marriage counselor is to get past the betrayal of infidelity. Many times, however, an affair does lead to divorce. Whether you are the person having the affair or the person betrayed by your spouse, you might be wondering how adultery can affect a divorce case. Read on to find out.
Impact on the Marriage
As you might imagine, unfaithfulness takes a huge toll on a marriage. Many couples who discover that one partner has had an extramarital affair will attempt to repair their marriage in order to avoid divorce. They might go to marital therapy or even renew their marriage vows. In some cases, couples are able to move past the infidelity and go on to build an even stronger marriage.
Other times, however, the feelings of hurt and betrayal grow and the marriage becomes unsustainable. This is also usually the case when the cheating partner decides to leave his or her spouse in order to be with the new partner.
It is also important to keep in mind that infidelity is often not the only reason that a marriage is ending. Something might have led up to the infidelity in the first place. For example, the marriage might have already been distant; maybe the husband and wife stopped talking and being physically intimate years ago. Or the betrayed spouse might have been abusive to the cheating spouse. It could even be that the betrayed spouse once had an extramarital affair of his or her own in the past. These factors could come into play when it comes to settling the divorce.
Impact on Custody Arrangements
In the majority of cases, adultery will not impact child custody arrangements at all. This can be difficult for the betrayed spouse to hear, as they might want their ex to pay for their infidelity. However, it is generally assumed that cheating on a spouse does not make one an unfit parent. While there might be other issues that could make the individual an unfit parent, the extramarital affair is generally not one of them.
One exception might be if the child was exposed to inappropriate things due to the infidelity. For example, if the child knew that the parent was cheating and was threatened to keep the information from the other parent “or else,” then this is a form of emotional abuse and it could impact the custody arrangements. Or if the parent did irresponsible things like leave a young child home alone while the parent went out with the new partner, that could make them an unfit parent. These are extenuating circumstances, however, and not closely related to the actual affair.
It is important to remember that although the betrayed parent is undoubtedly feeling very hurt and angry, both parents do still need to work together to raise their child. This might include having to accept that one spouse is going to stay with the person they cheated with. That individual might well become your child’s stepmother or stepfather. While it is a bitter pill to swallow, it is vital that you come to terms with this and work with your child’s other parent for the benefit of your child.
Impact on Shared Assets
In most states, the division of assets during a divorce is not impacted by infidelity. One partner might feel hurt and betrayed, but that does not entitle that person to a greater share of the common assets in most cases.
Again, there are exceptions. If, for instance, one spouse used shared funds to purchase expensive items for the extramarital partner, a judge would likely not look upon that favorably. Those funds might be considered part of the unfaithful spouse’s share of the marital assets even though they have already been spent. The same might go for a spouse or sells shared stocks to benefit his or her new partner or who has given away other shared marital assets to the new partner.
Impact on the Settlement Process
The settlement process is where an extramarital affair is most likely to affect the divorce case simply because one person might feel guilty and the other might feel angry and hurt. This can lead to both of them agreeing to a settlement that is in the better interest of the betrayed spouse and not in the best interest of the one who cheated. Speaking to a legal advocate can help you achieve a settlement that is fair to both parties, despite one spouse being unfaithful.
Keep in mind that the vast majority of divorce cases do not go to trial, so it is important to work together through the legal avenues available to develop a fair plan for dividing your assets and coming up with a custody agreement. Even if you are feeling hurt or guilty, understand that these strong feelings will pass and you will need to live with your settlement for a long time.
First Steps After Adultery is Discovered
If you are in the difficult position of either finding out that your spouse has committed adultery or approaching your spouse because you have had an affair, it is important to allow each other some space for a period of time to come to grips with the very strong feelings that will undoubtedly develop. You can also talk about whether you are interested in trying to save the marriage or whether you would prefer to divorce. If you are in disagreement, you could try a trial separation. Ultimately, if one of you is not interested in saving the marriage, then it is not salvageable and you will need to follow through with the divorce at some point. If you believe that divorce is imminent, it can be helpful to seek legal services. National Family Solutions is an economical alternative to a private attorney. Contact us to find out whether we can help you with your case.