Adultery in Tennessee: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

Learn whether an extramarital affair can impact spousal support in Tennessee.

Adultery can have far-reaching effects on a marriage, and often, the divorce process. Many states have laws that change the rights of an unfaithful spouse during a divorce, including each spouse’s rights to 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 in 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 “no-fault” divorces and do not consider adultery during a divorce, but in Tennessee, courts will 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.

If you want a divorce granted based on adultery, or you believe your spouse should be ineligible to receive alimony because of an affair, you will have to prove the adultery in court. You can don’t have to show that your spouse actually had sexual intercourse with another person to prove adultery. You 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 order the spouse in a better financial situation to transfer property to the other spouse. These payments or property transfers are called alimony. Alimony can be paid weekly, semimonthly, monthly or otherwise, depending on the divorcing couple’s circumstances.

There are several reasons a court may grant alimony to a spouse. Tennessee judges can order that money be paid from one spouse to the other for living expenses, or to 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 award alimony in cases where one spouse took care of the household and raising children to allow that spouse to have a similar standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. When possible, judges tend to award alimony in an amount that allows 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 until a supported spouse is able to cover his or her own expenses. 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:

  • the earning potential of each spouse
  • 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
  • the physical condition of each spouse, 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 non-financial
  • each spouse’s fault in causing the divorce, and
  • any other factors, including the tax consequences of an alimony award.

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 show that the adultery was the main reason for the breakup of the marriage.

If your spouse committed adultery, but you gave your spouse permission, or forgave your spouse and continued to live with him or her after the affair, the adultery will not prevent your spouse from receiving alimony.

If the unfaithful spouse is in a better financial position, the adultery won’t have any effect on that spouse’s obligation to pay alimony. 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 Impact?

Adultery doesn’t directly impact other aspects of a divorce besides alimony in Tennessee. Courts don’t consider adultery when dividing property unless a spouse spent the couple’s funds on the affair itself. For example, if your spouse spent your money on hotels, trips, or buying things for a paramour, the court may award you a larger share of the marital property.

Similarly, Tennessee courts typically don’t consider adultery when deciding child custody and visitation. An exception to this may be if a spouse abandoned the children as a result of the affair, or certain circumstances surrounding the affair show that spouse’s inability to take care of the children.


If you have additional questions about divorce and adultery in Tennessee, contact a 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.

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