One of the greatest joys of a healthy marriage is that spouses are able to accept each other exactly as they are. If one spouse makes a lot of money and the other spouse matches that effort by providing child care and maintaining the home, then both of them should theoretically be happy with the arrangement—and with each other.
But what about when a marriage begins to crumble? Only then do spouses start to think, in critical terms, about what each of them is bringing to the table financially. The reality can be sobering. For example, a spouse who worked as a waitress for many years to pay for the other spouse’s medical schooling may wonder how to become self-supporting on restaurant wages. Or a spouse who suffers from a degenerative physical disease like multiple sclerosis might wonder how to earn enough to cover costs of living.
Alimony (which is technically called “maintenance” in Indiana) is the money that one spouse (the paying spouse or "obligor") pays to the other (the supported spouse or "obligee") as part of the divorce proceedings. The purpose of alimony is to make sure that both spouses are on a similar economic footing after the divorce, and that one spouse isn’t enriched by the divorce while the other becomes impoverished.
American divorce has historically followed a “fault-based” model, meaning that the court would consider marital misconduct committed by a “guilty spouse” against an “innocent spouse.” Examples of marital misconduct included emotional or physical abuse, chemical dependency, abandonment, and adultery.
Over the last 50 years, many American states have opted to follow a modern trend toward eliminating fault-based “grounds” (legal reasons) for divorce and replacing them with “no-fault” language. Generally speaking, “no-fault” only requires that one spouse allege the marriage is “irretrievably broken” (meaning, it’s so badly broken that it can’t be repaired) or that the couple suffers from “irreconcilable differences” (meaning, they can’t resolve their problems).
Indiana has staked out a middle ground by allowing no-fault divorce if one of the spouses claims that the marriage is irretrievably broken, but also by recognizing limited fault-based grounds for divorce. The fault-based grounds are:
Adultery is not one of the fault-based grounds for divorce in Indiana. Therefore, the court will not consider evidence or testimony about adultery when it decides whether to grant a divorce.
Just because fault isn’t a factor for purposes of getting divorced doesn’t mean that it isn’t important when it comes to alimony. In fact, Indiana judges can consider marital misconduct like adultery when making decisions about alimony.
In Bartrom v. Adjustment Bureau, 618 N.E.2d 1 (Ind. 1993), the Indiana Supreme Court was faced with the question of whether the elimination of fault-based divorce laws meant that marital misconduct couldn’t be considered in alimony cases anymore. The court decided that adultery and other kinds of marital misconduct could be considered by any judge who has the responsibility to decide alimony issues. The only limitation is that judges can’t apply the laws unfairly by discriminating on the basis of a person’s gender.
Additionally, legal procedures in Indiana prohibit spouses from bringing up the name of a third party who’s accused of being involved in the adultery. This prohibition is meant to protect a potentially innocent person from being exposed to extortion and public scandal. Anyone who violates this rule and names a third party who’s accused of adultery can be fined up to $500.
Beyond the question of whether adultery occurred, judges have a variety of facts and law to consider when deciding whether to award alimony, what kind of alimony to award, and the amount and duration of payment.
Get more detailed information how alimony is awarded in Indiana, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Indiana.
If you have questions about alimony and adultery in Indiana, please contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
For self-help purposes, you can look at the Indiana Judicial Branch's Self-Service Legal Center and at the official court forms. You can also browse the Indiana Legal Services, Inc. site for resources and assistance geared to help low-income Indiana residents with legal problems. Finally, you can review the Indiana Code to read the laws for yourself.