Learning that your husband or wife has had an affair is often the beginning of the end of a marriage. Whether you rush to the family law attorney’s office right away or try to work through your issues with a counselor first, adultery is often a poison that destroys what you and your spouse have built together. But how will it affect the outcome of your divorce settlement? If there has been an affair, you need to know how adultery is treated in Michigan family courts so that you can give it the appropriate attention and weight from a legal perspective. No more, no less. Keep in mind, however, the importance of dealing with the emotional impact of adultery, and seeking appropriate help from that perspective, which can ultimately assist you in appropriately managing the legal components of the divorce process.
Michigan has been a no-fault divorce state for decades. But it doesn’t define “no fault” the same as some other states. Michigan divorce law essentially says you don’t have to prove adultery, abandonment, or any of the other traditional reasons relationships break down to get a divorce. “No-fault” means there is no fault requirement in establishing that you are entitled to get a divorce. Anyone can get divorced as long as:
“There has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.”
Adultery is one way the breakdown can occur. However, Michigan no longer requires couples to air their grievances in public court documents. In fact, under current Michigan divorce laws, adultery generally won’t even appear in the initial court documents. Instead, your lawyer will reference the “breakdown of the marriage relationship” and then add that “fault is a factor.”
It sounds insignificant compared to the emotional trauma of discovering an affair, but those four words can help you feel heard and open the door for appropriate legal measures in the context of your divorce.
Unlike in many other states, when Michigan removed fault as grounds for divorce it did not eliminate it from all consideration by the courts. Instead Michigan adultery laws and other allegations of fault are now among the factors judges may consider when awarding spousal support and dividing a couple’s marital property. Courts cannot award spousal support (sometimes called alimony) as a punishment against a cheating spouse, but the fact that an affair has occurred can affect several of the factors the judge considers when deciding whether spousal support is appropriate:
Unlike child support in Michigan, spousal support in Michigan is not determined by a specific formula, though software exists that can provide attorneys with some guidance on an appropriate ballpark amount of support. When it isn’t clear whether alimony is necessary, fault -- particularly an affair -- can impact a judge’s decision regarding whether to award support, and the amount and duration.
Infidelity and other forms of fault also play into the division of a couple’s property during a divorce. As with spousal support, the “past conduct of the parties” is a factor in how their assets and debts will be divided. Adultery can only be considered as one factor among many given equal weight. A Michigan family court judge is not going to put someone into poverty because they had an affair. However, proving fault can swing the balance of property awards in favor of the non-cheating spouse and help that spouse feel somehow compensated.
From a legal perspective, far more consideration is given to fault when there is money attached to it. Some other forms of fault, like alcoholism or a gambling addiction, are easy to quantify. It can be harder to put a price tag on adultery. However, some ways of quantifying an affair may include establishing proof that your spouse :
If you are able to effectively establish that the other spouse dissipated marital assets that you would have otherwise been entitled to, the court may award you a larger share of the assets.
Many people facing an unexpected and unwanted divorce because of infidelity want to raise their spouse’s affairs in the debate over child custody. It is true the “moral fitness of the parties” is one of the best interest factors judges use to make custody determinations. However, just like a person’s physical or mental health issues, morality only applies if it has a direct effect on the person’s ability to function as a parent. In the case of a cheating spouse, you and your family attorney will need to determine if there is a correlation between the other party’s infidelity and his or her ability to effectively parent your children.
So far, this post has dealt with Michigan adultery laws, and how the act of an affair affects the legal decisions made by a judge. However, cheating has another, far larger, impact on many divorces. Only about 5% of all divorce cases go to trial. The remaining 95% of all cases settle out of court through mediation, arbitration, negotiation, or by using the collaborative divorce process (more on that later). Adultery and other forms of fault make a case much more likely to fall into the 5% that take the extra time, money, and trouble to go all the way to the courthouse.
When one spouse has been hurt by some form of physical or emotional trauma, reaching a settlement that feels fair is much harder. Unlike cases where the marriage simply breaks down over time, adultery divorce in Michigan is more likely to expose raw emotional wounds that must be addressed before the case will be resolved. The affected spouse may feel they need to “get back” at the cheating spouse or punish them by taking away their children or some piece of property they feel is important to the adulterer. In these cases, a party’s priorities may not be entirely rational. They may prolong the divorce settlement process until they feel the punishment of a messy divorce fits the crime of the affair.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but in divorce cases where conflict comes from emotional wounds caused by an affair, a collaborative divorce model can sometimes be the best option. While the name “collaborative divorce” makes it sound like everyone is happily working together, in fact, often the hardest work is done by the parties separately away from the negotiating table.
Collaborative divorce is a holistic approach to ending a marriage relationship. It allows the parties to work with other professionals, such as a divorce coach or therapist who are equipped to help the parties address underlying, emotional issues, and allows the attorneys to direct their full attention to the legal issues at hand. The collaborative process is non-adversarial, so you don’t have to worry about your unfaithful spouse raising your own past wrongs to explain how you drove them away from the relationship. Instead, the collaborative process can teach you strategies to separate the emotional hurt of the affair from parenting choices and property negotiations, and help you reach a settlement that respects your feelings and your rights without the added pain of a trial.
At NSSSB, we have decades of experience helping spouses resolve difficult issues and find new direction. We understand the intricacies involved when issues of fault are implicated, and recognize how emotions can impact the divorce settlement process. Whether you are a good candidate for collaborative divorce, or prefer a traditional litigation model, we can help you develop your case and address the emotional issues that arise along the way. Click here to schedule a consultation with an attorney. We will listen to the details of your situation, answer your questions, and help you decide the best course of action for the dissolution of your marriage.