can cheating affect your divorce in California

Does Adultery Impact No-Fault Divorce?

Goldberg JonesDivorce, Divorce Process, Featured Posts 3 Comments

Adultery usually has a catastrophic impact on a marriage. It’s a betrayal of trust and a huge slap in the face. While divorce is rarely as simple as one thing, infidelity often irreparably damages a union.

Though it wields a destructive power like little else, how much does cheating impact the actual divorce?

Can Adultery Affect Divorce Proceedings?

In many cases, the answer is significantly less than people expect. And not always in the anticipated ways.

Even if adultery is the reason your marriage ends, in many divorces it winds up playing a smaller-than-expected part. It’s often almost entirely irrelevant in the larger process.

California is a no-fault divorce state

What no-fault divorce means is fairly simple: From a legal standpoint, no one is to blame for a breakup. Neither side needs to prove the other is at fault.

In a no-fault divorce, all that needs to happen is for one spouse to declare a marriage “irretrievably broken,” with no hope of reconciliation.

In short, if you want a divorce, meet the requirements (like actually being married), and follow the proper procedure, the state grants you a divorce.

The focus falls more on the desire for divorce than the reasons.

Related Reading: Types Of Legal Separation in CA

Ways Cheating Affects A Divorce

There are, however, situations where adultery does impact divorce proceedings. The scope and scale vary depending on the situation, but it can ultimately have a role in certain areas.

Spousal Support

One area where adultery sometimes has an impact is when it comes to spousal support. It’s rare but it does happen.

Intended to provide financial assistance in the wake of separation, the court may award alimony payments if you show that infidelity led to financial hardship. This often proves difficult to demonstrate. However, if an affair directly impacts your economic status, you may have a case.

Over the course of an affair, or multiple affairs, perhaps your spouse accumulated significant credit card debts or drained joint saving accounts paying for gifts, dinners, hotel rooms, or similar related expenses. That might influence support payments.

The court may account for and award spousal support to offset these obligations in these cases.

In extreme circumstances, courts may even consider emotional distress. This is even harder to prove, however. But if adultery causes severe trauma, this may play a role. It does have to be serious and significant.

Perhaps infidelity caused so much stress and strain it impacted your ability to hold a job. In that case, if you definitively show that is the source, the court can award spousal support. This is, of course, difficult to prove.

Spousal support isn’t as formulaic as child support. More than adultery, other elements factor into the amount. Financial need, the income of both spouses, the length of the marriage, job prospects, and earning potential; all of these and more take precedence over cheating.

Judges don’t usually use spousal support to punish misdeeds like infidelity. That’s not what it is designed for. The intent is for both of you to emerge relatively sound and stable financially speaking.

Related Reading: How Is Spousal Support Calculated in California?

Can Cheating Affect Child Custody?

In certain circumstances, child custody is another area where adultery may play a part.

Again, for that to happen, you must show that it had a specific, substantial impact. Having an affair doesn’t automatically disqualify one parent or the other from receiving custody. However, if it negatively impacts parenting ability, it often plays a role.

    • Did your ex miss important events like birthdays, school plays, or baseball games while having an affair?
    • Instead of picking the kids up at school, was your spouse in the middle of an illicit tryst?

If infidelity directly led to poor parenting choices, the court can consider this.

More than just once or twice, you’ll likely have to show a continued pattern of neglect or detrimental behavior. This must have hindered one spouse’s fitness as a parent, not simply been an inconvenience.

And perhaps more importantly, you must prove this point and show your work. Again, however, it can be difficult to demonstrate how adultery negated the ability to care for a child.

Related Reading: Types of Custody in California

Division Of Property

It’s also rare, but there are circumstances when adultery may influence the division of property in a divorce.

California is a community property state. This means the court typically views assets and debts acquired during the marriage as the property of both spouses.

Courts don’t split assets as punishment for things like adultery. That’s not the purpose. The general idea for this phase of the process is for both parties to emerge on more or less equal footing and maintain a lifestyle similar to the one they enjoyed while married. Regardless of past transgressions.

Similar to spousal support, if there’s a situation where an affair directly contributed to an undue financial burden, infidelity may rear its ugly head. Emphasis on may.

If your spouse emptied accounts buying lavish gifts or charged expensive hotels to a credit card, all in the course of an affair, the courts may account for that. If you have statements, bills, and other documents, you can present them as part of your argument. But as before, this is often difficult to prove definitively.

Related Reading: Credit Card Debt And Divorce

Been Caught Cheating

By now it’s probably clear that, for adultery to impact divorce, it must have had an actual, substantial effect. The judge isn’t there to punish infidelity, and divorce isn’t a punitive process.

It’s not the court’s responsibility or obligation to make sure cheaters pay.

If adultery did impact your circumstances, and if you can show it, that fact may play a part. It can be hard to prove, and even then, the court may deem it irrelevant. As destructive as cheating so often is to a marriage, the truth is that it doesn’t always have such a significant impact on divorce.

Related Reading: How To File For The Dissolution of Marriage In CA

Comments 3

  1. This is a thorough exploration of how adultery can, or more often, can’t impact divorce proceedings, especially in no-fault divorce states like California. It highlights the complexities involved and emphasizes the legal focus on fair outcomes rather than punishment for wrongdoing. Understanding these nuances is crucial for anyone going through a divorce, as it sets realistic expectations about what factors may or may not influence the legal process.

  2. Can you contact me please. I am on deployment and my wife has started Legal Separation process with her attorney.

    1. Post

      That’s tough, Darren. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back and will be in touch soon. Thank you for your service!

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