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Adultery and Divorce

Divorce is an emotionally difficult time, and if one spouse has been unfaithful, it is likely to even further complicate the process, from an emotional point of view. In some states, it is possible to allege “grounds” for divorce; that is, one spouse can file for divorce, telling the court that it is the other spouse’s fault that the marriage failed. Often, adultery is one of the grounds that can be alleged in those states.

However, Washington takes a different approach. Washington is a “no fault” state. When filing for divorce, the filing spouse will only be able to allege that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”  Whether one spouse has committed adultery will in no way be taken into account when deciding if the divorce will be granted. Likewise, adultery will have no effect on the distribution of marital assets and debts. Instead, the court will look to the property division laws in place when making these decisions. There is also no impact on spousal maintenance. In short, adultery plays little to no role in divorce in Washington State. A wronged spouse can sometimes feel that not taking adultery into account is unfair, as it removes accountability for the divorce. However, the advantage to the elimination of the relevance of adultery is that simplifies the issues to be decided by the court, and so can shorten the divorce and may make the process less costly and simpler.

A common inquiry is whether one spouse’s infidelity will have an effect on child custody decisions. This is slightly more nuanced. The determination of division of parenting time is made based on the best interests of the children. The court uses a large list of factors when trying to decide what is in the best interests, including such things as the relationship the children have with their siblings and adults in their lives, involvement in extracurricular activities, which parent has traditionally been the primary caregiver, and the wishes of the children, if they are old enough to express such an opinion. Infidelity of either spouse is nowhere on the list, and therefore in and of itself, adultery does not factor into a parenting time decision.

However, the infidelity could come into play if, for example, a parent is giving up parenting time to spend time with a new significant other, or if the new significant other is not an appropriate person to be around the children due to criminal history or some other similar behavior

Although adultery typically has little effect on divorce proceedings, you should discuss all possible angles and strategies with an attorney. We are experienced in handling these sensitive matters, and can advise you on whether infidelity is relevant in your case. Call us at (253) 272-9459 or email us at for an appointment.

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