Divorce statistics reveal that cheating is foremost reason for marriages ending in divorce. While infidelity in marriage is hardly new, with more and more women becoming financially independent and socio-cultural mores firmly underlining equality and monogamy in gender relations, repeated cheating by a spouse, is no longer treated with indulgence or even indifference. Personally, socially and legally, a spouse who has strayed more than once may find it difficult to protect his/her interests if heading for a divorce.
Cheating as ground for divorce
Till recently infidelity in a marriage constituted a substantial ground for divorce in the US as it continues to do in many parts of the world. According to this, the divorce proceedings could be initiated on account of the ‘fault’ of the cheating spouse and often issues like alimony, child custody and child support was decided with a definite bias towards the aggrieved spouse. This required the party filing the divorce to prove that his or her spouse broke the marital vows by committing adultery with another person.
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However now all the fifty states in America as well as the District of Columbia have switched to no-fault divorce laws or at least laws where both fault and no-fault laws co-exist. Among the states where adultery is still on the statute books are Michigan, Maryland, New York and Wisconsin, although they are rarely prosecuted.
At present almost all states follow no-fault divorce laws in which the dissolution of a marriage does not require a showing of wrong-doing like cheating by either party. In no-fault system adultery by itself does not entitle the victimized spouse to a greater share of the property or a higher amount of support. However this does not mean that a person cheating on a spouse escapes all negative consequences in a divorce count. For instance if a person committing adultery has wasted marital assets or dissipated money on his adulterous conduct, the court can take a serious view of the matter. This situation could be quite obvious where the unfaithful spouse has moved out of the marital home and has begun cohabiting with the third person. In such a case, the court is likely to ask how financial issues are addressed. If marital money is finding its way to the mistress, or otherwise being diverted away from the marriage, then the offending spouse may be required to pay spousal support, maintenance, or some other financial arrangement to restore the missing money to the marriage. However there is generally no financial penalty to a spouse who simply has a sexual relationship in violation of his marital vows.
The prime reason why infidelity may work against the straying spouse is that it shows him/her up as an untrustworthy person in the eyes of law. Mutual love and trust are the foundation for all marriages in a monogamous society. When a partner indulges in an extramarital affair, the action strikes at the very heart of a marriage and reveals that he/she does not care about the mutual expectations and responsibilities of a committed relationship. In this way adultery is often seen as a breach of trust and of the commitment that had been made during the act of marriage.
This becomes especially pertinent when children are involved in the divorce. Since the cheating spouse is shown up as unreliable and irresponsible in a relationship, the other spouse can plead in the court that the former is morally and emotionally unsuitable to bring up the kids. Thus a history of infidelity may go against a person who wishes for sole or even joint custody of his/her children.
Cheating in a marriage can bring about a financial burden even when not related to the estranged spouse. Just the very process of getting a divorce can rack up legal fees worth the tens of thousands of dollars. Even after a divorce has been finalized, the cost of infidelity can continue to pile up. This is because living expenses and taxes are generally cheaper for married couples than for divorced couples. Divorced spouses may not qualify for benefits such as health insurance, which must then be paid out-of-pocket.
In some cases not the cheating spouse, but even the partner he/she cheated with may get in trouble with the law under grounds of alienation of affections suit. In the US, states like Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah a spouse has a legal recourse should someone intrude into the marriage by having an affair with his/her marital partner. The spouse in this case may file a suit charging the other man/other woman with intentionally interfering in his/her marital relationship. So if you have cheated on your spouse with the hope that at least you may find in your girl/boyfriend’s company in case of divorce, you may be rudely surprised as even your casual partner leaves in a huff after being slapped with a suit on grounds of alienation of affection.
A new dimension to cheating and divorce has been brought about by the invasion of internet into personal relationships. The anonymity and easy availability of online dating now results in many more spouses looking for love outside marriage. Twenty percent of divorces involve Facebook and 80 percent of divorce lawyers have reported a spike in the number of cases that use social media for evidence, according to a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. There are not only sites encouraging casual hook-ups but some like Ashley Madison which specifically cater to relationships on the side. Apart from social networking sites which re-connect old flames, there is the constant, 24/7 availability of internet porn into the bedroom, all of which are enough to tempt a spouse into behaviour which can very well qualify as cheating. And yet the relationship between online cheating and grounds for divorce is still a grey area especially because unlike conventional sex there is no physical encounter involved. However so much is without doubt that a married person with a history of online porn habits and online cheating can well be looking at a divorce petition heading his/her way.