Adultery in Tennessee: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

Learn whether an extramarital affair can affect spousal support in Tennessee divorce.

By , Attorney

Adultery can have far-reaching effects on a marriage, and often, the divorce process. Many states have laws that change an unfaithful spouse's rights during a divorce, including alimony and property division. Other states do not consider adultery at all when making financial decisions during a divorce.

This article will explain the legal rights of spouses in a divorce caused by adultery in Tennessee. If you have additional questions about adultery and divorce after reading this article, you should consult a Tennessee family law attorney.

What Role Does Adultery Play in a Tennessee Divorce?

Tennessee defines adultery as voluntary sexual intercourse with a person other than your spouse. Some states have pure "no-fault" divorces and will not consider either spouse's adultery during a divorce. In Tennessee however, courts can consider which spouse's conduct caused a divorce, including a spouse's infidelity. Adultery is one of the specific legal grounds for a fault divorce in Tennessee. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-101 (a)(3).) But even if a spouse is guilty of marital misconduct, like adultery, the filing spouse can choose to follow the state's no-fault divorce process, which doesn't require either spouse to produce evidence of wrongdoing. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-101 (14).)

If you want a divorce based on your spouse's adultery, or you believe your spouse should be ineligible to receive alimony because of an affair, you will have to prove the adultery with admissible evidence in court. You don't have to show that your spouse had sexual intercourse with another person to prove adultery. Instead, you can rely on circumstantial evidence by showing that your spouse had both the inclination and the opportunity to be unfaithful.

Overview of Alimony in Tennessee

Tennessee courts often order a spouse to make payments to the other spouse to help pay that spouse's reasonable expenses after a divorce. Courts may also require the spouse in a better financial situation to transfer property to the other spouse. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-102 (a).) Tennessee law calls these payments or property transfers alimony or spousal support. The court may order a spouse to pay alimony weekly, semimonthly, monthly, or otherwise, depending on the divorcing couple's circumstances. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121.)

There are several reasons a court may grant alimony to a spouse. Tennessee judges can order a spouse to pay money to the other for living expenses or allow a spouse to get education or job training. The judge may also order one spouse to pay the other spouse's expenses to hire an attorney for the divorce case. Judges may award alimony in cases where one spouse took care of the household and raised the children while allowing the other spouse to have a similar standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. When possible, judges tend to award alimony to allow a financially dependent spouse to enjoy the same standard of living the couple had during the marriage.

Alimony can be temporary, lasting for a specific amount of time, or it can last until a supported spouse can become financially independent. When appropriate, alimony may also be permanent, lasting until either spouse dies or the supported spouse remarries. When deciding alimony, Tennessee courts consider all of the following factors:

  • each spouse's earning potential
  • each spouse's financial resources, including retirement plans
  • the length of the marriage
  • each spouse's education and job training
  • the age and mental condition of each spouse
  • each spouse's physical condition, including illness or disease
  • each spouse's childcare duties
  • the property each spouse receives in the divorce
  • the couple's standard of living during the marriage
  • each spouse's contributions to the marriage, financial and nonfinancial
  • each spouse's fault in causing the divorce, and
  • any other factors, including the tax consequences of an alimony award. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121 (i).)

Tennessee courts have the discretion to change the alimony award at any time if the spouses' financial circumstances change. For more details on alimony in Tennessee, read Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Tennessee.

How Does Adultery Impact Alimony in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, if a spouse commits adultery during the marriage, the court can deny that spouse alimony during the divorce. To prevent your spouse from receiving alimony, you will have to prove that adultery was the main reason for the breakup of the marriage.

If your spouse committed adultery, but your spouse proves that you are also guilty of adultery, participated in the affair, knew about the affair, and continued living as a married couple, or if you received money from the affair, the court could bar you from receiving alimony as well as your guilty spouse. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-112.)

If you believe your spouse shouldn't receive alimony because of adultery, you should consult a Tennessee family law attorney to help you prove your case.

What Else Does Adultery Affect?

In Tennessee, adultery doesn't directly affect other aspects of a divorce besides alimony. Judges in Tennessee are prohibited from considering adultery when dividing property. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-121 (a).) However, if a guilty spouse spent the couple's funds on the affair itself, the court can consider whether to reimburse the innocent spouse. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-121 (c).) For example, if your spouse spent marital funds on hotels, trips, or buying things for a paramour, the court may award you a larger share of the marital property.

Tennessee courts don't consider adultery when deciding child support. Instead, the judge must follow state guidelines specifically for calculating child support.

Child custody is often a hot-button topic in divorces. Like child support, the court will not consider either spouse's marital misconduct when evaluating custody. But the court will create a custody order that serves the child's best interest. So, if a parent's affair indirectly impacts the child's wellbeing, the judge may consider it when deciding custody. For example, if a spouse abandoned the children to move closer to a paramour, the new partner is unfit or dangerous for the children to be around, and/or other circumstances surrounding the affair show that the spouse cannot care for the children, a judge may deny or limit custody for the guilty parent. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-106.)


If you have additional questions about divorce and adultery in Tennessee, contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.

To read the full text of the law on alimony in Tennessee, see the Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-121