Affairs sometimes lead to negotiated settlements that make marital misconduct very expensive. In no-fault states, where people divorce without having to prove specific reasons the marriage failed, courts don’t consider marital misconduct. Affairs there do not matter much. Financial awards usually just come down to formulas. And while it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly how many divorces occur because of cheating, judges are inured to its impact because it happens so often.
However, affairs cost money when the parties have signed a prenup or postnuptial agreements that consider affairs as a possibility. “They’ll often read that in the event one of the parties cheats, the award will be X dollars a month higher,” says Robert Wallack, a matrimonial attorney in New York. “I had one case where a contract stated that if the husband cheated, and if the wife could prove it, she would control his real estate holdings.”
Judges are more concerned with economic misconduct, not marital fidelity. So courts look with displeasure on a spouse who dissipates the martial estate on the paramour. “I had a situation where a husband rented an apartment to conduct an affair,” says Wallack. “It cost $5,000 a month, and he rented it for two years.” The wife ended up getting $120,000, on top of her alimony to compensate for that expenditure.
Moreover, when the affair happens in conjunction with extremely poor conduct or some type of abuse, courts are more inclined to add an economic penalty. To win on this score, the conduct has to be outside the bounds of normal decency, says Wallack. “If a husband flaunts his affair in his wife’s face, or it can be shown he was ignoring his kids and other family responsibilities, that might be a contributing factor,” he said.