How Does Adultery Affect Divorce in WA?

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Marriage is a complex relationship full of give and take and countless nuances. Many factors go into creating such a union. Conversely, many factors go into breaking one apart. The underlying causes for divorce are rarely simple, but when adultery plays a role, it’s huge.

Infidelity represents a massive betrayal of trust. As a result, it usually has a devastating effect on a marriage. Often a symptom of already existing trouble, adultery is quite a deal breaker and leads directly to divorce. Even if a marriage survives, it’s rarely the same afterward.

Can Adultery Affect Divorce Proceedings?

Cheating may have a destructive impact on your marriage, but what about the actual divorce? In some instances, it influences settlements. And in some states, adulterers can’t receive spousal support. Overall, however, infidelity doesn’t have quite the impact on divorce many people expect.

Here’s how it works in Washington:

What Is No-Fault Divorce?

Like most states in this day and age, Washington is a no-fault divorce state. A relatively simple concept, this means that, in order for the court to grant a divorce, you don’t need to show a specific cause. There are no criteria to meet and neither party needs to prove the other was at fault.

In short, if you want a divorce, all that must happen is one spouse declares the marriage “irretrievably broken” and that there’s no hope of reconciliation. Say that, meet the residential requirements, and follow the proper procedure, and the court will grant your divorce. You must also be legally married in the first place, that’s key.

Because neither party is “guilty” or “innocent,” adultery becomes largely irrelevant.

It may be the reason your marriage ended, but it doesn’t necessarily play a part in the process of dissolving your marriage. Instead of the why the court focuses on the fact that one spouse wants a divorce.

That said, situations do exist where adultery factors into divorce. It can impact specific steps of the process, though how much influence it wields varies from one case to the next.

Adultery And The Division Of Property

Though it’s rare, one area where adultery and cheating may impact divorce is in the division of property. When it comes to dividing shared assets, Washington is a community property state. The court views all assets acquired during a marriage as equally belonging to both spouses.

In general, the idea is for both parties to emerge on relatively even footing and as close as possible to the standard of living they enjoyed while married. Property isn’t divided as punishment for wrongdoings, like infidelity.

As there’s no blame to assign, adultery doesn’t usually come into play. One situation where it can is if cheating directly contributed to financial issues.

For example:

  • if an affair included lavish gifts,
  • racked up extensive hotel bills,
  • or fed other economic hardships, the court may account for that. (This can be difficult to prove, however.) 

Spousal Support And Adultery

Spousal support is another area where adultery may factor into your divorce. It’s also another area where it’s difficult to demonstrate the concrete impact. Again, if you can prove that infidelity directly triggered an undue financial burden, it may apply.

Perhaps your spouse drained your savings or ran up substantial credit card debt in the course of an affair. The court will likely consider that when it awards spousal support. They may also consider significant emotional distress caused by adultery. In this case, however, it must be severe, like negatively impacting the ability to find or hold a job. And again, this is difficult to show definitively.

There’s no spousal support formula in Washington, and instead of adultery, other factors influence maintenance awards.

Factors include:

  • financial need,
  • the length of your marriage,
  • child custody,
  • future job and earning potential,
  • and more take precedence over extramarital transgressions. 

And similar to the division of property, the court won’t use spousal support as a punishment.

Child Custody And Adultery

By now you’ve probably noticed the trend that, while adultery can impact certain areas of divorce, it often doesn’t. The court holds other concerns above that. Child custody is another area that follows this logic.

In order to sway decisions on guardianship, child support, and visitation, you must show that adultery negatively influenced one party’s ability as a parent.

  • Perhaps it’s possible to illustrate that an affair is part of a larger pattern of neglect.
  • Did your ex routinely choose infidelity over parental duties?
  • Did they shack up in a hotel room instead of at your son’s birthday party or baseball game?

If you show cheating directly led to bad parenting choices, the court may consider that factor in child custody decisions.

Across the board, you can try to show how infidelity negatively impacted everything from finances to parenting ability. On the other hand, your spouse has the opportunity to demonstrate that it wasn’t a factor. And unless you can definitely prove this, you may not even be able to present it as relevant to your divorce case.

Adultery often has a catastrophic effect on a marriage and many never recover. But as huge an impact as it has on a relationship between two people, it doesn’t always play such a large role in the actual divorce proceedings.

If you demonstrate that it had a concrete impact on finances or parenting ability, the court may take it into account. In reality, however, it often has a smaller role that you expect.

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