If you're facing the end of your marriage because you or your spouse had an extramarital affair, you might be wondering whether the infidelity could affect your divorce. It's natural to want to punish a spouse who has cheated on you. Wyoming courts won't let spouses use the divorce process as punishment. But a spouse's cheating could impact your case.
Historically, if you wanted a divorce, you had to prove that your spouse was guilty of some kind of wrongdoing (fault). And adultery was usually at the top of the list of misconduct that could be a "ground" (legal reason) for divorce.
Some states still allow you to file for divorce based on your spouse's adultery. But not Wyoming, which has followed a growing trend by allowing only no-fault divorce grounds. You can request a divorce even if your spouse objects to it.
In order to get divorced in Wyoming, all you need to show is that there are "irreconcilable differences" in the marriage. (Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-104 (2022).) Basically, this means you and your spouse can no longer get along, and there isn't a reasonable prospect that the situation will change.
Of course, adultery is one of the most common reasons that marriages end in divorce. And unless you and your spouse can work through the emotional repercussions of an extramarital affair, infidelity can certainly play a central role in leading to the permanent breakdown of your marriage. But it isn't a legal reason for divorce (or "dissolution of marriage") in Wyoming. That means there's no need to prove or disprove that the affair took place in order for you to obtain your divorce.
The Wyoming statute that addresses alimony is rather sparse. It says that the judge may award alimony to a spouse, taking into account the other spouse's ability to pay. (Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-114(a) (2022).) The statute doesn't provide any other factors for a judge to consider when deciding alimony issues. However, Wyoming courts have held that judges should consider the requesting spouse's need for support, as well as the other spouse's ability to pay. (Sellers v. Sellers, 775 P.2d 1029 (Wyo. 1989).)
In dealing with alimony, many states that only allow no-fault divorces don't permit judges to take marital misconduct into consideration when awarding alimony. But Wyoming seems to buck that trend.
The Wyoming Supreme Court held in 1980 that judges may not punish a spouse for misconduct in the marriage. The implication of that was that fault shouldn't affect a judge's decision about alimony. (Paul v. Paul, 616 P.2d 707 (1980).) A few years later, however, the state's high court interpreted the Paul decision as meaning that a judge isn't obligated to consider fault when deciding alimony issues. The court said that just because Wyoming is purely a no-fault state when it comes to the grounds for divorce, that doesn't mean judges may not consider fault—along with all of the other circumstances in the case—when deciding whether to award alimony. (Grosskopf v. Grosskopf, 677 P.2d 814 (1984).)
So the bottom line appears to be that it's up to individual judges in Wyoming whether or not to consider evidence of adultery (or other kinds of fault), if they believe the circumstances warrant it, when making decisions about alimony.
Under certain circumstances, adultery may affect a judge's decisions on other issues in a Wyoming divorce, especially when it comes to dividing the couple's property.
Wyoming is an "equitable distribution" state. In states that use this method to distribute couples' assets in divorce, judges will divide their marital property based on what's fair and just under the particular circumstances of each case. In the Grosskopf case (discussed above), the Wyoming Supreme Court also held that judges may consider the spouses' relative fault in the breakup of the marriage when dividing the couple's property.
So adultery could come into play in the property division, especially if the cheating spouse wasted the couple's assets by squandering money on the affair—for instance, by paying for expensive travel, lavish gifts, or even support for the lover. In this type of situation, the adultery hasn't just caused emotional harm to the "innocent" spouse. It has also resulted in financial harm, by diminishing the amount of assets to be divided in the divorce. So the judge might decide to award the aggrieved spouse a greater share of the remaining assets as compensation for the loss.
Decisions about child custody in Wyoming, as in all states, must be based on what would be in the children's best interests. The law lists a variety of factors that judges must consider when they're making custody decisions. The list doesn't include adultery, but it does mention the "relative competency and fitness of each parent." There's also a catch-all phrase: any other factors the court believes are necessary and relevant. (Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-201(a) (2022).)
It could be argued that having an affair is a moral failing or, at least, shows a lack of judgment. But the real question is whether that impacts a cheating spouse's ability to be a fit and competent parent. In most cases, it doesn't. So adultery isn't likely to affect a judge's decision about the child's living arrangements or the amount of time that parent will spend with the child. In fact, the law recognizes the importance of maintaining the child's relationship with both parents after divorce.
However, there might be some limited situations when the consequences of a parent's affair could affect the child's well-being. For instance, a judge might decide that it wouldn't be good for a child to live or spend much time with a parent who became completely uninvolved in the child's life because of the affair, or who exposed the child to an abusive relationship with the lover.
Child support in Wyoming is calculated under the state's child support guidelines. The primary factors are the parents' income, the number of children, and the children's living arrangements, including how much time they spend with each parent. Typically, the more time a child stays with a parent, the less child support that parent would have to pay (because the parent is providing for the child's needs while they're together.
Because the support payments are meant for the children—not as a reward or punishment for the parents' behavior—either parent's adultery shouldn't play a direct role in determining which of them will pay support or the amount of the payments. Indirectly, however, a parent might end up paying more child support if the judge has decided to limit that parent's time with the children due to the harmful effects of the circumstances around the adultery.
No, adultery isn't a crime in Wyoming.
Many people find it devastating to learn that their spouse has had an extramarital affair. But if you've decided to end your marriage as a result, it's never a good idea to try to use the divorce process as a way to punish your spouse.
Even in states that don't allow fault-based divorce grounds (like Wyoming), aggrieved spouses may channel their anger by contesting issues like custody, alimony, or property distribution just for the sake of fighting. All this accomplishes is to make the entire process more stressful, not just for your spouse, but for you and your kids as well. And it will undoubtedly increase the cost of divorce, particularly attorneys' fees.
If at all possible, try to separate the emotional issues resulting from your sense of betrayal from the practical and legal issues in your divorce. While you're taking steps to rebuild your life after divorce, do what you can to ensure that the divorce itself will be as smooth as possible.
If you can cooperate with your spouse enough to work out a divorce settlement agreement, you'll be able to get an uncontested divorce in Wyoming—which is always quicker, easier, and cheaper than a traditional contested divorce. And if you need help resolving your disagreements, you can try divorce mediation. With an agreement, you can probably get a DIY divorce, either on your own or by using an online divorce service.
But if you can't reach an agreement and want to argue that your spouse's infidelity should affect the judge's decisions on alimony and property division, you should speak with a lawyer who can evaluate the strength of your case an help you prepare the kind of evidence that will sway the judge in your favor.
And if you're the one who went outside of the marriage for physical intimacy, you might find yourself dealing with a spouse who simply won't let it go and insists on a drawn-out legal battle over every issue in your divorce. When that's the case, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney to learn what you can do to protect your interests.