This article provides an overview of alimony in Idaho and discusses whether adultery can impact an alimony award. If you have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.
Alimony (technically called "maintenance" in Idaho) is the money that one spouse ("the obligor") pays to the other ("the obligee") in the event of divorce. The purpose of alimony is twofold: to help both spouses to live as closely as possible to the standard of living they enjoyed while they were married, and to make sure that one spouse isn't left destitute while the other spouse walks away with the bulk of the money.
Judges have a lot of leeway in deciding whether to award alimony, the amount and duration of it. However, they can only order an obligor to pay alimony if both of the following threshold statements are true:
Get more detailed information how the amount of alimony is determined, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Idaho.
The modern trend in American divorce law is a strict “no-fault” divorce model. In a no-fault system, all a spouse has to prove is that the marriage is broken can't be repaired.
By contrast, the older legal approach was "fault-based." It allowed spouses to introduce evidence of "marital misconduct" in which "innocent spouses" were harmed by "guilty spouses." Examples of marital misconduct included chemical dependency, physical abuse, abandonment, fraud, and, of course, adultery.
Many American states have no-fault divorce laws, while others are fault-based. Idaho, on the other hand, uses a hybrid model that allows divorces based on either fault-based or no-fault “grounds” (legal justifications).
There's a no-fault divorce option for marriages where the spouses claim to have "irreconcilable differences," meaning they don't think there's any reasonable probability they can solve their problems.
But Idaho also recognizes a number of different grounds for divorce that are based on marital wrongdoing. One of those grounds is adultery. Adultery is defined as "the voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with a person other than the offender's husband or wife."
If you prove to the judge that your spouse committed adultery, then you are entitled to a divorce on that ground. Obtaining a divorce on grounds of adultery may also give you a leg up in other aspects of the divorce, like alimony.
An alimony award has to be fair and reasonable. The judge can only award alimony "in such amounts and for such periods of time that the court deems just, after considering all relevant factors." These factors include:
You may have noticed that the law explicitly allows the judge presiding over your divorce to consider fault, or marital misconduct. This means that the court can consider evidence of adultery when it decides what to do about alimony.
The Idaho Supreme Court recently addressed the relationship between adultery and alimony. The court explained that "marital fault, which includes adultery, is one of the many factors that [Idaho law] expressly allows a trial court to consider when making a spousal maintenance award." Pelayo v. Pelayo, 303 P.3d 214, 218-19 (2013).
This means that a judge can consider evidence of adultery and also the impact it had on the marital estate. For example, the judge might decide to increase the amount and duration of alimony owed by an adulterous spouse to an innocent spouse. If the obligee is the adulterous party, the judge could decide to decrease the amounts and duration the obligor has to pay.
The only caveat is that the alimony decision has to be fair and reasonable, and it can't be focused only on adultery. If adultery occurred, it's just one factor for the judge to consider. The court also has to consider the other factors, and based on the totality of the evidence, produce a just and balanced decision.
If you have questions about alimony and adultery in Idaho, please contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
For self-help purposes, you can look at the State of Idaho Judicial Branch's Court Assistance Office and official court forms. You can also browse the Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. site for resources and assistance offered by a nonprofit legal service provider dedicated to helping low-income Idaho residents with legal problems. Finally, you can read the family law statutes firsthand.