Adultery in North Dakota - Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

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Marriages can end for many reasons. Spousal abuse or neglect can certainly result in the termination of a marriage, but in other instances, the spouses simply drift apart on their own until they determine that it is time for everything to end and go their separate ways. Adultery is one of the many reasons that a divorce can come to a conclusion, and while it is a terrible act of misconduct, the effects cheating can have on the divorce process differ state by state.

As many spouses know, cheating often has consequences. Aside from the effect of cheating on the marriage itself, cheating may affect the divorce process and any alimony awards received by the spouses. Each state varies on how exactly adultery will affect an alimony award, and so this article is intended to clarify that issue for the state of North Dakota.

The Nature of Divorce in North Dakota

Before discussing whether adultery or cheating would affect an award of alimony or spousal support, the nature of divorce in North Dakota must be examined.North Dakota’s divorce laws provide seven reasons for married couples to seek a permanent divorce. While North Dakota does have no-fault divorce, six of North Dakota’s divorce grounds are fault grounds.1 One of those grounds is adultery, which is defined as a married person’s voluntary sexual intercourse outside of the marital relationship.2

About North Dakota Alimony Rules

In North Dakota, alimony is known as spousal support.3 Unlike the laws of many states, North Dakota’s spousal support law does not provide substantial guidance to courts. North Dakota’s alimony law simply allows North Dakota courts to award temporary alimony payments based on the circumstances of the spouses.

Given the absence of statutory guidance, North Dakota’s courts have taken it upon themselves to set standards for the award of spousal support. In general, North Dakota courts will consider a number of different factors in making spousal support determinations such as:

  • The age and health of the spouses;
  • Each spouse’s relative earning capacity;
  • Each spouse’s earning capacity;
  • The financial needs of each of the spouses; and
  • The conduct of the spouses during the marriage.4

The Effect of Adultery and Other For-Cause Grounds for Divorce on Alimony

North Dakota courts have remained relatively consistent in allowing adultery to be considered in making spousal support determinations as a matter of marital misconduct. That said, North Dakota courts have consistently held that marital misconduct is only one factor that should be considered in determining the award of spousal support.5 Therefore, while marital misconduct may be considered in spousal support determinations, the financial factors appear to be more important overall.

The Verdict:

North Dakota courts may consider a spouse’s infidelity in awarding spousal support. That said, marital misconduct does not appear to be as important to North Dakota courts as the financial facts involved in spousal support determinations. In other words, a spouse’s adultery will play a role in the court’s determination, but scorned spouses should not count on their spouse’s infidelity to move the ball very far.

If your spouse has been cheating on you and you plan to sue for divorce, you should consider contacting a local divorce attorney for assistance. Divorces involving adultery claims tend to be very messy lawsuits and will be very difficult to litigate on your own. Your rights can be best protected by proactively protecting your ability to succeed in your divorce litigation.

Note: This is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.

Resources:

  1. N.D. Cent. Code, § 14-05-03.
  2. N.D. Cent. Code, § 14-05-04.
  3. N.D. Cent. Code, § 14-05-24.1.
  4. Mees v. Mees, 325 N.W.2d 207, 1982 N.D. LEXIS 345 (N.D. 1982).
  5. Id.