Is adultery always a reason for divorce?

Whether you are the deceiver or the deceived, adultery (also called infidelity) can be held as a fault by the judge appointed in a divorce proceeding. Adultery is one of the top reasons couples in England and Wales apply for divorce. Find a divorce lawyer who specialises in family law on

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What is adultery?

Adultery is defined as your spouse engaging in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex outside of the legal or formally recognised union of two people as partners and that the other spouse cannot continue to live with them. When there is no sexual relationship, but the person is registered on a dating site or has a virtual (internet) relationship, it’s called online infidelity or cybersex. Cybersex may qualify as adultery when the conduct is a substantial factor in the breakdown of a marriage.

What is considered to be adultery?

How does cybersex differ any differently from, say, addiction to online pornography? There are no cut and dried answers to this question. Since virtual reality is such a new and relatively untested realm, it’s quite challenging to know exactly what it means to different people. With virtual sexual activity, participants are sometimes taken deeper into more disturbing levels of activity; whereby technology enables online lovers to live out their passion in a vivid and all-consuming way. Naturally, the word “adultery” comes to mind when one of the parties involved in this risky relationship happens to be a married man. By law, sexting and cybersex are currently not considered as adultery. So, adultery is when there is physical intimacy outside of marriage.

Consequences of adultery in a divorce case?

In countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran, adultery is often considered more seriously for women rather than men – which can result in the violent death of the perpetrator. However, in the UK, the aim of the modern divorce process is not to “punish” the guilty or name and shame the third party involved in the adultery.

In the UK, the reasons behind a divorce, even with adultery, rarely is there an impact on the distribution of assets unless one has used marital assets to support the extra-marital relationship with lavish spending. Courts must adhere to the rules set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Similarly, adultery is unlikely to affect custody proceedings unless the children were exposed to inappropriate situations during the affair or in more severe cases when there have been physical injuries. In most cases, assets are split according to the need or statutory criteria in the Matrimonial Causes Act.

If the straying spouse happens to pick up a sexually transmitted disease, and later infects his or her spouse with that illness, that can give rise to a personal injury case (tort law) affecting the share of his/her stake in the divorce. This may also result in one losing his right to a lump sumwhich is usually intended to compensate for disparities in the living conditions of the spouses.

It is a misconception that assets are divided in favour of the “injured party” in a divorce based on adultery as the court is more interested in what resources are available and how they are divided fairly. To get a divorce, you also have to prove that you find it intolerable to live with your spouse and have six months to issue a divorce petition on the ground of adultery.


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