How Adultery Affects a Divorce in Massachusetts

Not too long ago, adultery was a felony offense in Massachusetts. While a cheating spouse can no longer be imprisoned for infidelity, this conduct can still have a substantial impact on a divorce case.

Adultery Provides Grounds for a Fault-Based Divorce

Massachusetts laws allow couples to seek divorce on several fault-based grounds or because of the “irretrievable breakdown” of their marriage, which is generally referred to as no-fault divorce. Adultery is the first factor listed under Mass Gen. Laws ch. 208, §1 as providing grounds for divorce.

As a practical matter, however, for most people there is little difference in the outcome of a divorce based on grounds of adultery and a no-fault divorce or a divorce based on other grounds such as desertion. Obtaining a divorce on the basis of adultery could provide a moral victory and potential advantages in certain social circles, but these come at a high cost. Proving fault takes considerable time and resources which means more time in court and more legal fees and other expenses such as private investigators.

How Adultery Could Affect Alimony and Property Division

Courts are allowed to consider any factor they believe to be “relevant and material” in making alimony determinations. That can allow a judge to look at adulterous behavior when deciding the amount, duration, and form of alimony payments one former spouse must make to the other.

However, court precedent specifies that alimony is intended to provide fair treatment to a spouse who needs support and it not to be used to punish wrongful behavior. That generally means that a cheating spouse may not be denied alimony solely on the basis of adultery.

If a spouse wastes joint marital assets while having an affair, however, that can definitely affect the court’s ruling on alimony as well as property division. In fact, courts have ruled that a judge must consider the affair and marital property spent on someone other than the spouse when establishing an alimony award. Moreover, courts are supposed to consider the “conduct of the parties during the marriage” when deciding on an equitable division of property. If one partner spent money on an extra-marital affair, the other is likely to receive additional property to make up for the misuse of funds.

Does Adultery Make a Difference in Child Custody or Child Support?

At one time, adulterous behavior could be used by one spouse to show the other was an unfit parent. Under modern standards, however, the court focuses specifically on the best interest of the child. A judge might not be swayed by arguments that immoral conduct evidenced by adultery has a negative impact on the child.

The situation is different if a parent is seeing someone with abusive tendencies that could create an unsafe environment for the child. In that case, the other parent could request sole physical custody as well as limits on visitation.

Child support determinations are based on primarily mathematical formulas, so adultery has next to no impact on child support.

A Massachusetts Divorce Lawyer Could Assist if Adultery Might Affect Your Divorce

Allegations of adultery can make a difficult divorce process even more painful and traumatic. However, an experienced Massachusetts divorce lawyer at Koiles Pratt Family Law Group could help diffuse the tension and use the opportunities available in your situation to further your goals. Contact us today for a confidential consultation to learn more.

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