Adultery in Kentucky: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

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

If you’re ready to end your marriage because of infidelity, you may be wondering if the adultery will have any impact on your divorce proceedings. You may also be wondering if adultery will affect the court’s decisions about alimony.

This article will provide an overview of alimony in Kentucky and explain the potential impact of adultery on alimony. If you have any questions after you read this article, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney for advice.

Overview of Alimony in Kentucky

One of the most common concerns for people going through a divorce is whether they will pay or receive alimony (technically known as “maintenance” in Kentucky). Most people know that alimony means one spouse has to make payments to another spouse, but they generally don’t know why or how the judge makes decisions about alimony.

Alimony is the money that one spouse (the "obligor" or paying spouse) pays to the other (the "obligee" or supported spouse) after a divorce. Alimony has two basic purposes. The first is to make sure that one spouse doesn’t walk away with the majority of the marital funds, leaving the other spouse impoverished. The second is to prevent inequalities and help both spouses live at or near the same standard of living.

There are some situations where it’s predictable that a judge will award at least some alimony. The classic example is that of a stay-at-home spouse who gave up a career to care for the couple’s home and children for a long period of time.

Another example is when a spouse worked a series of menial jobs, such as day laborer in construction or server in a restaurant, to pay the other spouse’s way through an expensive professional school (engineering, medicine, law, or the like) which results in a lucrative career. In either case, the judge may very well award some alimony.

In Kentucky, a judge can only award alimony if the both of the following statements are true:

  • the supported spouse lacks sufficient property, including marital property awarded in the divorce, to provide for his or her reasonable needs, and
  • the supported spouse is unable to become self-supporting through appropriate employment, or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it appropriate that the supported spouse not be required to seek employment outside the home.

Get more detailed information how alimony is determined and calculated in Kentucky, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Kentucky.

What Role Does Adultery Play in a Kentucky Divorce?

Kentucky is a no-fault divorce state. This means that it doesn’t matter who's at fault for the failure of the marriage or why the marriage ended. One of the spouses simply needs to state in the divorce paperwork that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” This means that the marriage has broken down and can’t be saved. The court will accept this statement and grant the divorce provided that the parties have been living separate and apart for at least 60 days.

In some states, “grounds” (legal justifications) for divorce are based on fault. “Fault” is the same thing as marital misconduct, or wrongdoing committed by a “guilty spouse” against an “innocent spouse.” It can include things like adultery, abandonment, abuse, fraud, felony conviction, or chemical dependency.

However, the modern legal trend is moving away from fault-based divorce toward no-fault divorce. Part of the reason for this is that it’s costly, risky, and time-consuming for spouses to spend a lot of time arguing in front of a judge about why their marriage failed when the fact is—it’s over.

Kentucky doesn't recognize fault-based grounds for divorce. Therefore, the judge will not consider whether adultery has occurred in your marriage when deciding whether to grant the divorce.

How Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Kentucky?

Adultery has only a limited impact on alimony decisions in Kentucky. According to a landmark case, Chapman v. Chapman, 498 S.W.2d 134 (Ky. 1973), the judge can only consider adultery when deciding how much alimony to award. The judge can’t, however, prevent a guilty spouse from receiving alimony just because that spouse committed adultery. The only effect of fault (like adultery) on alimony in the Kentucky courts is on the amountawarded.

But as a practical matter, Chapman is an older decision, and the practice of Kentucky’s courts and lawyers has generally been not to raise the issue of fault at all, even in alimony cases. Legal experts say that “fault, insofar as who caused the breakup of the marriage, has virtually been eliminated in Kentucky.”

So how does a judge in Kentucky make decisions about alimony? The court has to prepare an order “in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, and after considering all relevant factors,” including:

  • the supported spouse's financial resources, including marital property received in the divorce and his or her ability to meet financial needs independently, including the extent to which a child support order contains money for the supported spouse as custodian
  • the time necessary for the supported spouse to acquire sufficient education or training necessary to find appropriate employment
  • the standard of living established during the marriage
  • the duration of the marriage
  • the supported spouse's age, and physical and emotional condition, and
  • the ability of the paying spouse to meet the his or her own needs while also meeting those of the supported spouse.

Additional Resources

For self-help purposes, you can look at the Kentucky Court System's family case information page and official court forms. You can also browse the Legal Aid Network of Kentucky site for resources and assistance from legal service providers dedicated to helping low-income Kentucky residents with legal problems. Finally, you can read the Kentucky Revised Statutes to see the laws firsthand.

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