Adultery and Divorce in Minnesota

Learn more about how adultery might affect your divorce in Minnesota.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School

Adultery can cause a marriage to become an emotional nightmare, and it's a common cause of divorce. When you're ending your marriage because one (or both of you) has cheated on the other, it's possible that the adultery will impact the outcome of your divorce, including any potential award of alimony. Every state's alimony laws are different; here's a breakdown of how Minnesota's alimony laws address adultery.

What Role Does Adultery Play in a Minnesota Divorce?

Minnesota is a "no-fault" divorce state, which means if you or your spouse believe that your marriage is "irretrievably broken" (so badly damaged that you can't save it), and the judge agrees, then the court will grant your divorce. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518.06.) There's no need to get into why the marriage failed or who was at fault. The no-fault approach reflects a modern trend in American family law. It can speed up divorce proceedings, eliminate mudslinging, and help you and your spouse heal from your emotional wounds more quickly.

In "fault-based" states, judges can consider the issue of who's at fault (wrongdoing) when deciding whether to grant a divorce. One spouse has to file for a fault divorce and does so by filling out the divorce papers and stating that the marriage fell apart because of the other spouse's marital misconduct. Common grounds (reasons) for divorce in fault-based states include abandonment, abuse, chemical dependency, and, of course, adultery.

Minnesota's adultery laws and definitions are outdated. The state defines adultery as occurring "when a married woman has sexual intercourse with a man who isn't her husband." (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.36.) It does not say that adultery occurs when a married man has sexual intercourse with a woman who isn't his wife. It also fails to account for marriage between two people of the same gender, which is legal in Minnesota (and throughout the United States). Nonetheless, most experts agree that a good and commonly accepted definition of adultery is that a legally married spouse engages in sexual relations with someone who is not a legal spouse.

Minnesota is a pure "no-fault" state, so courts won't consider evidence of adultery when deciding whether to grant a divorce. However, the court may consider the way the parties conducted themselves during the marriage, including any adulterous affairs in other contexts.

For example, suppose an unfaithful spouse burned through your marital savings to buy jewelry for an extramarital lover. In that case, the court might very well consider that evidence when awarding bad conduct attorney's fees or when deciding who get's what in the property division award, which is supposed to be equitable (fair).

Overview of Alimony in Minnesota

Alimony, which courts call "spousal maintenance" in Minnesota, is the money that one spouse pays to the other during and sometimes after a divorce. The court's goal in awarding alimony is to ensure that the low-earning or unemployed spouse isn't impoverished when the marriage ends and has enough financial support to become self-supporting.

Judges can order a spouse to pay alimony during the divorce to prevent the supported spouse from falling into a deep financial hole during the legal proceedings, which can sometimes take up to a year or even more. This temporary alimony is available to the supported spouse only until the divorce is final and the judge issues a new, permanent support order.

When it comes to a final decision about alimony, the court can deny alimony altogether or order permanent or rehabilitative support. Most courts try to avoid granting permanent alimony unless the marriage was long-term and the supported spouse is truly unable to be vocationally rehabilitated and self-sufficient.

A final order for short-term alimony is most common when the marriage didn't last particularly long or when the receiving spouse has the potential to become self-supporting after a period of education and training. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518.552(3).)

How Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Minnesota?

Before a Minnesota judge can make any decisions about alimony, both of the following statements must be true:

  • The receiving spouse lacks the property, including marital property awarded during the divorce, to provide for reasonable needs in the context of the standard of living the spouses enjoyed while they were married and in the context of any training or education the supported spouse might need.
  • The receiving spouse can't be financially self-supporting through employment or is the custodian of a child whose condition makes it necessary for the custodian to stay at home with the child instead of working. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518.552(1).)

If both of the following statements are true, then the court can award alimony. To decide the amount and duration of alimony and to prepare an order that is fair and reasonable, judges must analyze the following factors:

  • the supported spouse's financial resources, including marital property awarded during the divorce and the supported spouse's ability to meet needs independently
  • the time necessary for the supported spouse to obtain enough education or training to find appropriate employment, and the probability, based on the receiving spouse's age and skills, of completing that training and becoming fully or partially self-supporting
  • the standard of living established during the marriage
  • the length of the marriage, and if the supported spouse was a homemaker, the length of the supported spouse's absence from the workforce, and the extent to which the supported spouse's career skills and earning capacity might have become outmoded
  • the loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities the supported spouse gave up during the marriage
  • the age, physical, and emotional condition of the supported spouse
  • the ability of the paying spouse to meet the paying spouse's needs while also meeting the supported spouse's needs
  • both spouses' contribution in acquiring, preserving, depreciating (reducing the value), or appreciating the value of the marital property, and the contribution of either spouse as a homemaker or in supporting the other spouse's career or business.

(Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518.552(2).)

None of these factors have anything to do with marital misconduct like adultery: That's because Minnesota law explicitly states that judges must make alimony decisions without regard to marital misconduct. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518.552(2).)

Judges award alimony when a supported spouse shows a financial need—not to punish spouses for bad conduct while they were married. Therefore, Minnesota law prohibits judges from considering adultery when deciding the amount and duration of alimony. Courts must simply decide all the alimony issues fairly and reasonably.

Does Adultery Affect Custody or Child Support?

In general, adultery does not affect custody or child support. Judges in Minnesota must use the state's child support guidelines, which do not include marital misconduct. Instead, the judge will consider the parent's gross income, number of children, and any special circumstances, like childcare or extraordinary health care costs. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518A.35.)

When evaluating child custody, courts only consider what's in the child's best interest. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518.17.) A parent's marital misconduct will not impact custody directly. However, if a parent's actions jeopardize the child's best interests in the future, the court may limit or deny custody or visitation to protect the child. For example, if a parent commits adultery during the marriage and continues the relationship after the divorce, but the new partner has a history of child abuse or domestic violence, the court may consider that relationship when deciding custody and may restrict visits based on any potential risk to the child.