Adultery a Bar to Alimony?

by Michael F. Callahan

Last week we discussed how to pick a court in which to file your uncontested divorce case.  This is the first of several articles in which we’ll talk about circumstances in which a case would be decided differently depending on which local jurisdiction’s court hears the case.

There is no bar to alimony in the District of Columbia or Maryland for adultery.  Fault is only one of many factors that a court may consider in deciding whether to award alimony and, if so, how much and for how long.

However, in Virginia the court cannot award spousal support (alimony) at the conclusion of the divorce case from a spouse who has proven adultery of the other spouse as a ground for divorce, unless the court determines based on clear and convincing evidence that it would be a manifest injustice to deny support.

So there is more at stake when Virginia spouses, who suspect their spouses of cheating hire private detectives and snoop, electronically and otherwise.  This is because solid evidence of adultery strengthens the potential support paying spouse’s hand in negotiations and at trial.

It is necessary to find such evidence because you cannot rely on forcing your spouse to admit adultery by asking him or her under oath.  Adultery is a crime in Virginia, seldom prosecuted but still on the books.  Accordingly, your spouse can “take the fifth” when questioned about adultery.

Once adultery has been established, to overcome the adultery evidence and be awarded spousal support, the prospective support payee must establish by clear and convincing evidence that it would be a manifest injustice to deny support.   The statute provides that the court is to look at the spouses’ respective degrees of fault and relative economic circumstances.  So to prevail the adulterous support-seeking spouse needs to show (1) he or she  really needs support and the other spouse really can afford to pay, and (2) looking at the entire marriage and the conduct of both spouses, the other spouse’s conduct is really more culpable than the adultery of the spouse seeking support.  In short, it is very difficult burden.

If your spouse moves out of the Virginia marital house and into D.C. or Maryland, he or she may be forum shopping to avoid the Virginia adultery bar to alimony.  In that case you would be wise to file a divorce case in Virginia promptly.