In recent weeks, the nation has been following the story of General David Petraeus’ extramarital affair – an act of infidelity that led to his resignation from the CIA and an FBI investigation into whether his adultery posed a national security threat. In the wake of the shocking admission, Petraeus’ mistress, a married mother of two, says that she deeply regrets the relationship, while the retired Army General has return to his home to focus on his family.

In addition to making national headlines, the Petraeus affair has many wondering about the legal consequences that adultery has on divorce proceedings, the division of assets, and child custody. These laws vary by state. Most states, including Washington State, have no-fault divorce laws.

  • Proof of fault. Many years ago, most states had laws that required couples to prove that one spouse was the cause of divorce – such as infidelity, cruelty, neglect, abandonment, or the commission of a felony. The person who was at fault for the divorce could receive punishment for causing the end of the marriage by receiving less than half of his or her marital property. While the majority of states no longer have these laws, some, like New York State, still do.
  • No-fault divorce. In modern times, most states are no-fault divorce states. This means that the state understands that marriages can end for mutual reasons – that relationships can simply be irrevocably broken or that couples can simply have irreconcilable differences. These states, including Washington, operate with the understanding that infidelity can cause divorce, but should not affect legal divorce proceedings, including the equitable division of property.

It is important to understand, however, that if marital misconduct, such as an affair, has had an economic impact on the couple’s property or assets, infidelity could possibly affect how property and assets are distributed. For example, if a husband had been paying the rent of a mistress for many years, a wife could ask to have her share of that money reimbursed during the divorce proceedings. In the same way, if you can prove that a spouse’s affair has significantly negatively impacted your children (for example, if it exposed them to danger in some way), your spouse’s infidelity could possibly affect your parenting plan and child custody case.

Contemplating Divorce Because of Infidelity?

Our firm offers discreet consultations with Bellevue divorce attorney, Molly B. Kenny. Call us today at 425-460-0550 to schedule your appointment.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington