Everyone knows someone—a friend, relative, or coworker—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 may have to mourn the loss of the relationship you dreamed of and struggle with the circumstances that caused it. Divorce is often 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 order to navigate through the divorce process.
This article will explain the possible impact of adultery on divorce and alimony in Minnesota. If you have any questions after reading this article, you may want to consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney for advice.
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Minnesota's adultery laws and definitions are outdated.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 fault, including 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). If you have any questions about this, you should talk with a family law attorney.
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, before the court issues a final order, 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. 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. The most recent trend is that courts try to avoid granting permanent alimony unless the marriage was long-term (think decades) 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).)
Before a judge can make any decisions about alimony, both of the following statements must be true:
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:
You probably noticed that 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.
Generally, no. 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.
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