Adultery and Divorce in Minnesota

What Role Does Adultery Play in an Minnesota Divorce?

Everyone knows someone—a friend, a co-worker—whose marriage ended because of infidelity. Yet no one thinks it can happen to them, until it does.

If your marriage is ending in divorce because of adultery, you not only have to mourn the loss of the relationship, but also struggle with the circumstances that caused it. It’s one of the most stressful experiences anyone can endure. But you can begin to bounce back and adjust to your new life by learning some basic information about your legal rights and responsibilities in the upcoming divorce.

This article will explain the possible impact of adultery on divorce and alimony in Minnesota. If you have any questions after you read this article, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney for advice.

What Role Does Adultery Play in an Minnesota Divorce?

Minnesota is a "no-fault" divorce state, which means if you or your spouse believe that your marriage is irretrievably broken (meaning, so badly damaged that it can’t be saved), and the judge agrees, then the court will issue a divorce order. 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 and eliminate mudslinging and hard feelings, helping you and your spouse to heal from your emotional wounds more quickly.

In "fault-based" states, the issue of fault (wrongdoing) can be considered when the court is deciding whether to grant a divorce. This means that the divorce papers will say that the divorce was granted because of wrongful marital conduct. Common grounds (reasons) for divorce in fault-based states include abandonment, abuse, chemical dependency, and, of course, adultery.

Minnesota’s definition of adultery is outdated. It defines adultery as occurring when a married woman has sexual intercourse with a man who isn’t her husband. 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. 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 his or her spouse.

Minnesota courts will not consider evidence of fault when deciding whether to grant a divorce. For that reason, adultery is not a factor when it comes to whether the judge will allow you to divorce. However, the way the parties conducted themselves during the marriage, including any adultery, might be considered in other contexts.

For example, if an unfaithful spouse burned through your marital savings account to purchase jewelry for an extramarital lover, the court might very well consider that evidence when it comes to awarding bad-conduct attorney fees or making the property division, which has to be equitable (fair). If you have any questions about this, you should talk with a family law attorney.

Overview of Alimony in Minnesota

Alimony, which is technically called "spousal maintenance" in Minnesota, is the money that one spouse pays to the other both during and after a divorce. The goal of alimony is to ensure that the low-earning or unemployed spouse isn’t totally impoverished when the marriage ends.

Judges can order alimony to be paid during the divorce, before a final order is issued, to prevent the receiving spouse from falling into a deep financial hole during the legal proceedings. That kind of alimony can be issued in what’s called a temporary order, which applies until the final order is written.

When it comes to a final decision about alimony, the court can deny alimony altogether or it can order either permanent or temporary alimony. The most recent trend is that courts try to avoid granting permanent alimony unless the marriage was long-term (think decades) and the receiving spouse is truly unable to be vocationally rehabilitated and self-sufficient.

A final order for temporary 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.

How Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Minnesota?

Before a 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 also in the context of any period of training or education that the receiving spouse may need to undertake.
  • The receiving spouse is unable to 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.

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 just (meaning, fair and reasonable), judges must analyze the following factors:

  • the financial resources of the receiving spouse, including marital property awarded during the divorce and the receiving spouse’s ability to meet needs independently
  • the time necessary for the receiving spouse to obtain enough education or vocational 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 receiving spouse was a homemaker, the length of the receiving spouse’s absence from the workforce and the extent to which the receiving spouse’s career skills and earning capacity may have become outmoded
  • the loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities that the receiving spouse gave up during the marriage
  • the age, physical, and emotional condition of the receiving spouse
  • the ability of the paying spouse to meet the paying spouse’s needs while also meeting those of the receiving spouse, and
  • the contribution of both spouses 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.

You probably noticed that none of these factors have anything to do with marital misconduct like adultery. That’s because the law says that judges have to make alimony decisions without regard to marital misconduct.

Alimony is intended to make sure that neither spouse falls into poverty. It’s not designed to punish spouses for bad conduct while they were married. Therefore, Minnesota law prohibits judges from considering adultery when making a decision about the amount and duration of alimony. Courts must simply decide all the alimony issues in a fair and reasonable manner.


The Minnesota Judicial Branch Self Help Center

Legal assistance through Law Help MN

The complete Minnesota Statutes

Minn. Stat. § 518.06 (2012)

Minn. Stat. § 518.131 (2012)

Minn. Stat. § 518.552 (2012)

Minn. Stat. § 609.36 (2012)

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Considering Divorce?

Talk to a Divorce attorney.

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you