Adultery in Wyoming: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

If you’re getting divorced in Wyoming and you or your spouse has cheated, you’ll need to know how the adultery will affect the judge’s decisions about your case, including alimony, child custody, and child support.

By , Retired Judge

Adultery can cause a marriage to become an emotional nightmare, and it's a common cause of divorce in Wyoming. When you're ending your marriage because one (or both) of you has cheated on the other, it's possible that the adultery will impact the outcome of your divorce, including any potential award of alimony. Every state's alimony laws are different; here's a breakdown of how the state of Wyoming's alimony laws address adultery.

An Overview of Alimony in Wyoming

Divorce can cause financial turmoil and reveal hard truths about each spouse's post-divorce financial prospects. Often, one spouse will be in a better position than the other, with, for example, a higher-paying job, a more promising career path, or access to more assets.

The courts attempt to balance these financial inequities by ordering the spouse who's more financially sound to pay alimony (also referred to as "maintenance" or "spousal support") to the other. The main goal of alimony is to ensure that both spouses can provide for their own needs after the divorce.

The Wyoming statute that addresses alimony is rather bare-boned. It says that the court can award alimony to a spouse, taking into account the other spouse's ability to pay. The only other criteria is that the alimony must be reasonable. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-114 (a) (2021).) The statute doesn't provide any other factors for a judge to consider when deciding alimony issues, which means that judges have a great deal of discretion in each case.

When discussing divorce and alimony in Wyoming, you should be aware that alimony can take different forms. The current trend—not only in Wyoming, but nationwide—is to award short-term alimony. This can be done for a variety of reasons, but usually its goal is to give the spouse who receives support the opportunity to obtain skills or additional education needed to compete in the job market, if necessary.

Permanent (indefinite) alimony is possible in Wyoming, but it's rare today. You'll typically see it in situations where there's a lengthy marriage and the spouse receiving alimony is unlikely to be able to become self-sufficient, possibly because of age or for medical reasons.

Judges can also award temporary alimony while the divorce is pending. This is done to maintain the financial status quo until a final decision on alimony is made. This alimony ends when the divorce is finalized. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-111 (2021).)

Is Wyoming a No-fault State?

Wyoming recognizes only no-fault divorces. "Fault" and "no-fault" refer to the permissible grounds (reasons) for a divorce. With a no-fault divorce, neither spouse points a finger of blame at the other for the failure of the marriage. The no-fault ground in Wyoming is "irreconcilable differences". (Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-104 (2021).) In other words, the couple can't get along—to a point where the marriage can't be salvaged.

Many spouses prefer no-fault divorce because it tends to lessen hostility, and generally results in lower legal fees. It also facilitates the possibility of settling your issues and entering into a divorce settlement agreement, which can lead to a much quicker divorce.

Because Wyoming is strictly a no-fault state, it doesn't permit divorces based on a spouse's behavior, like mental or physical cruelty, desertion, substance abuse, or adultery.

What Role Does Adultery Play in a Wyoming Divorce?

Because adultery isn't a permissible ground for divorce, neither spouse can use it as a basis for filing a divorce complaint. But that doesn't necessarily mean that adultery plays no role in a divorce. What needs to be determined is whether it can affect other divorce issues.

Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Wyoming?

This question isn't as cut-and-dried as it might seem. Many states that only allow no-fault divorces don't permit judges to take marital misconduct into consideration when awarding alimony or distributing marital property. But Wyoming case law seems to buck that trend.

A Wyoming Supreme Court case in 1980 held that the court isn't allowed to punish anyone for marital misconduct. The implication is that you can't let fault impact an alimony award. (Paul v. Paul, 616 P.2d 707 (1980).)

But a subsequent Wyoming Supreme Court case 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 fault can't apply to an alimony decision. (Grosskopf v. Grosskopf, 677 P.2d 814 (1984).)

So when it comes to adultery and alimony, the bottom line appears to be that it's a matter of discretion. Judges can accept evidence of adultery (or other kinds of fault) if the circumstances warrant it. Or, they can choose to ignore it, which you're most likely to see in cases where having enough money to go around isn't really a problem.

Does Adultery Affect Custody or Child Support in Wyoming?

In most Wyoming divorce cases, the fact that a spouse has cheated doesn't affect custody or child support. However, it's important to remember that when it comes to custody matters, judges must prioritize the best interests of the children. So when a parent's adulterous behavior compromises a child's health or safety, it could certainly affect a judge's custody decision. One of the factors a Wyoming judge will look at is the "relative competency and fitness" of a parent. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-201 (a) (iii) (2021).) For example, when a parent leaves a young child unattended because that parent is off having an extra-marital affair, a judge would probably be less inclined to entrust the child's well-being to that parent.

When it comes to child support, Wyoming law provides that the amount of time a child spends with a parent can factor into a calculation of the support amount. (Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-304(c) (2021).) As a rule, the more time a parent has with a child, the less support the parent will have to pay, because they're already spending money on the child, particularly when the child has numerous overnight stays. If the court denies or significantly limits a parent's time with the child because of the parent's infidelity, that parent will likely be paying more money for support.