How Does Committing Adultery Impact the Results of a Divorce Settlement?

Cheating on a spouse never ends well. While the emotional consequences are usually quite devastating, divorce due to infidelity can have a significant financial impact, as well. While the specific effect may depend on local laws and the details of the situation, keep reading to see how adultery can impact divorce settlements.
Joseph Hoelscher

Joseph Hoelscher

Managing Attorney at .

Increased Alimony or a Disproportionate Share of the Marital Estate

Adultery affects divorce settlement the same way it affects relationships. It may not be the end of the world, but it rarely helps. Because adultery can be a source of resentment and a huge breach of trust, it is also a barrier to a negotiated settlement. Settlement negotiations are most effective when the parties are reasonable and can trust each other to operate in good faith. In divorces involving adultery, negotiations are typically much harder. The party that has cheated wants to move on and can resent their spouse for not letting go of the past, while the spouse who has been cheated on needs a stronger, more detailed agreement to protect against future bad faith, even when they’re not still looking to settle a score. The result is often a replay of the issues leading to divorce, making the process longer, more expensive, and more emotionally difficult.

The exact details of settlements after adultery may be the same as any other divorce, but the process to get there is usually harder. However, adultery can have a big impact on a settlement agreement. Some states penalize adultery by allowing for increased alimony or a disproportionate share of the marital estate. Sometimes, the threat of being exposed for an affair can destroy a client’s negotiating position. On the other hand, where the affair continues, the adulterous spouse may be influenced by their paramour, driving conflict. Where kids are involved and feel like they have to choose sides, even a reasonable parent may find it hard to move on.

Adultery is toxic to most relationships and to attempts to negotiate the end of a relationship. It changes the parties’ focus to the past when they need to be designing a settlement that looks to their future post-divorce.

Dependent Upon Whether State Laws Are ‘At-Fault’ or ‘No-Fault’

Committing adultery can certainly complicate a divorce settlement, but its impact is largely determined by the laws of the applicable state. In some states, known as ‘no-fault’ divorce jurisdictions, adultery may not have any impact on the divorce settlement. These states, including Pennsylvania, do not consider the conduct of either spouse when dividing property. Instead, the court focuses on what is fair and equitable.

In contrast, in ‘at-fault’ divorce states, adultery can indeed affect the results of a divorce settlement. It may be treated as a factor for determining alimony and the division of marital assets. The innocent spouse might be entitled to a larger share of marital property or may be awarded higher or prolonged alimony.

Ultimately, while adultery can certainly infuse a divorce proceeding with heightened emotions, its actual impact on the settlement outcome varies by jurisdiction. Emotions aside, it’s always best to consult with a divorce attorney to understand specific implications based on your own unique situation.

Min Hwan Ahn

Min Hwan Ahn

Founder of .
Marcus Fernandez

Marcus Fernandez

An Attorney at .

May Have a Substantial Impact on Alimony, Spousal Support

Adultery can indeed influence divorce settlements, although its impact varies substantially depending on the specific laws of the jurisdiction in which the divorce is taking place.

In terms of division of property, adultery may have limited or no impact in some jurisdictions, particularly in those states that follow the principle of equitable distribution for marital property.

However, in states where fault grounds like adultery are allowed, the offending spouse may receive a smaller portion of the marital property. However, it’s important to note that ‘fault’ in the breakdown of the marriage is only one of many factors a court will consider when dividing property. Others could include the length of the marriage, each spouse’s financial condition, contributions to the marital property, and others.

When it comes to alimony, or spousal support, adultery can potentially have a more substantial impact. Some states might reduce the amount of alimony that an adulterous spouse is entitled to receive. On the other hand, if the innocent spouse can show that the adulterous spouse used marital assets to support the extramarital relationship, they may be awarded a larger portion of the marital property to compensate for this misuse of funds.

In the context of child custody and visitation, adultery may have less direct implications unless the behavior of the adulterous partner has had a demonstrable negative impact on the children.

Although adultery can have an effect on divorce settlements, it is essential to understand that it’s just one factor in a complex process that seeks to dissolve the marital relationship fairly and equitably.

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