In the wake of the recent scandal involving the hacking of Ashley Madison, a “dating” website for married people looking to have affairs, many people have grown concerned—whether or not they used that website—about how evidence of their own misconduct could affect them in a divorce.
It’s easy to assume, if you live in a state that offers no-fault divorce, that evidence of marital misconduct like infidelity is no longer relevant. In some states, that’s largely true. However, in Michigan, “no-fault” doesn’t literally mean that evidence of infidelity and other marital misconduct doesn’t matter. Let’s take a look at what “no-fault” does and doesn’t mean, and how evidence of wrongdoing can affect you in a Michigan divorce.
What “No-Fault” Divorce Really Means In Michigan
At one time, in most parts of the United States, couples could not be granted a divorce unless it could be demonstrated that at least one of the parties was at fault in the breakdown of the marriage. This requirement has fallen by the wayside in recent decades. Today in Michigan, as in other states, neither party is required to prove fault in order to be granted a divorce.
That does not mean, however, that fault is irrelevant in a Michigan divorce. Misconduct on the part of either party can affect the outcome of the divorce in several significant regards. One of these is the division of property in the divorce. In Michigan, marital property is divided based on principles of “equitable distribution,” meaning that while property isn’t split exactly equally, it’s divided in a way that is fair under all of the circumstances. Michigan case law has established that one of the factors courts are to consider in property division is the cause of the divorce, including fault on the part of the parties leading to the breakdown of the marriage. This doesn’t mean that if one party had an affair, for instance, the other will receive most of the marital property. It does mean, though, that a judge might award the wronged party more property than he or she would otherwise have received.
Adultery can also have an impact on whether spousal support (formerly known as alimony) is awarded, and the size and duration of the award. Michigan family courts look at a number of factors when considering whether to award spousal support. These include a spouse’s fault in causing the divorce, as well as the “past relations and conduct of the parties.” Michigan courts have explicitly stated that such fault and conduct includes infidelity.
Cheating on your spouse can also affect your future relationship with your children. Michigan judges must consider a number of “best interests” factors when determining child custody. One of these factors is the “moral fitness of the parties.” While the Michigan Child Custody Act doesn’t offer a definition of moral fitness, it’s easy to imagine that a judge would consider evidence of adultery in connection with this factor, and indeed, many trial courts have done so.
What to Do if Infidelity is a Factor in Your Divorce
Regardless of whether you or your spouse cheated, if infidelity is a factor in your divorce, you need the counsel of an experienced Michigan divorce attorney. Infidelity and other types of misconduct are only one factor in your divorce. Your attorney can advise you how it fits in with the other facts of your case, and how you can reasonably affect infidelity to affect the outcome of your case.
If you are contemplating divorce, or if you suspect your spouse is going to file, talk to an experienced Oakland County divorce attorney to learn more about how Michigan divorce law applies to the facts of your case. Attorney Jim Hubbert has represented numerous clients in Southeastern Michigan who have dealt with issues of marital misconduct in their divorce matters.