When one spouse cheats during marriage, the emotional effects on the other spouse can be devastating. Sometimes a marriage will survive infidelity and grow stronger, but more often the marriage is doomed. How does infidelity affect the legal issues that arise in the dissolution of a marriage?
With regard to spousal support, a judge must consider whether both spouses have enough income to pay their reasonable expenses. If one spouse does not have enough and the other has more than enough, then spousal support should be awarded to the spouse with the economic need. However, if the spouse with the economic need was sexually unfaithful before the couple separated and the supporting spouse can prove the infidelity, then the cheating spouse will not be entitled to spousal support. The exception to this rule is if both spouses were unfaithful–then the judge has discretion on whether to award alimony or not. If the unfaithful spouse is forgiven for the sexual misconduct and the couple stays together, then alimony may be awarded in the future if they separate for other reasons.
While a judge may consider infidelity when setting spousal support, infidelity has no effect on the division of a couple’s property. Marriage is considered a partnership, and a judge will divide the property and debt equally, unless an equal division with like-kind distributions is not “equitable” or fair, under the circumstances. There are more than a dozen factors a judge can consider when dividing marital property between spouses, but infidelity is not one of those factors.
Infidelity generally is not a factor when determining custody of a child. Unless the child is aware of the parent’s affair and the extramarital relationship had an adverse impact on the child, infidelity should not be considered when setting custody. Parents and the judge should always consider the “best interest of the child.” Parents should focus on making the transition to separate households as smooth as possible for the child, and telling the child about the other parent’s affair or other faults is never a good idea.
Infidelity can have devastating effects on a family. It is important to speak with a knowledgeable family law attorney before trying to sort out the mess that infidelity leaves in its wake. Learn about your options and then you can focus on getting your life back on track.