Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful can be an emotional disaster. To many people, this is a wrong that can never be corrected. It can destroy a marriage. People expect that infidelity will be punished by a Judge in a divorce and the innocent spouse will be rewarded by a favorable property division or alimony as a result. Some people think that a person who commits adultery should not have custody of children. While the actions of the courts vary depending on the specific facts of a case, usually, a Massachusetts Court will do very little when adultery is proved.
Grounds for Divorce
Massachusetts is a no-fault divorce state. There is no advantage to filing a fault grounds divorce if the other party will appear in the divorce action. While Massachusetts allows a divorce on the grounds of adultery, Judges will encourage parties to change the divorce to no-fault. If a divorce is filed on the grounds of adultery, a motion must be filed to name the third party who participated in the infidelity. Judges will deny this motion as soon as it is filed.
Alimony and Property Division
Alimony and property division in a divorce require a Judge to consider many factors. There is no factor specifically addressing marital fidelity. One of the factors is "conduct of the parties during the marriage." Certainly cheating should be considered wrongful conduct. However, it is hard to imagine a marriage where the only conduct by one party was bad conduct. Usually every person has good conduct and bad conduct during a relationship. The Judge must consider all conduct, good and bad. As a result, it is rare that a person has behaved so badly during a marriage that it has a significant affect on the outcome. Massachusetts divides marital property under a concept of equitable division. I have never heard a Judge describe any part of equitable division as including the concept of punishing a party for bad behavior.
Sometimes when Infidelity occurs one spouse has established an on-going relationship with a third party. Sexual infidelity may be a part of this relationship. Another part of the relationship may be using marital resources to benefit the third party. Expensive gifts or trips can constitute a diversion of marital assets. If spending of substantial money to conduct the affair or benefit the paramour occurred, then a Judge may be expected to take the expenditure into account when dividing assets. It is not the sexual acts that impact the property division, it is the spending of money.
The standard for deciding custody is “the best interests of the child.” If the affair was unknown by the child and had no effect on the child, then the Judge should not consider the affair when deciding child custody or visitation. Although it is predictable that the paramour may be exposed to the child in the future, unless there is evidence of inappropriate sexual conduct occurring in the presence of the child, the Judge should not let an affair control a custody decision.
Child support is decided by application of the child support guidelines. Once child custody is determined, child support will follow. An affair is not related to the child support guidelines.
An affair may violate societal and religious morals. However, in most cases, it has almost no effect on an divorce. Of course, each case is fact specific and if your spouse has committed adultery you should consult an experienced family law attorney to discuss what effect, if any, this can have on a divorce.