The Impact of Adultery on Divorce in North Carolina: Legal Consequences and Considerations

North Carolina takes allegations of adultery seriously in the context of divorce. Depending on the circumstances, proof of adultery can impact alimony, child custody, and property distribution in a divorce in our state. 

If you suspect that your spouse committed adultery during the marriage or that they might accuse you of adultery, you should talk to North Carolina family law attorneys about the impact of adultery on divorce in North Carolina: the legal consequences and considerations.

The Impact of Adultery on Spousal Support

North Carolina judges tend to punish spouses for adultery, which can mean different things, depending on which spouse committed the infidelity. Our state thinks of spouses as dependent or supporting. A spouse who is financially reliant on the other spouse is a dependent spouse. The spouse who has more assets or income than the other spouse is the supporting spouse.

Usually, a dependent spouse can qualify for financial support from the supporting spouse after the divorce, but if the court finds that the dependent spouse cheated on the supporting spouse during the marriage, the judge can deny alimony. Adultery prior to separation gets viewed more harshly than infidelity after the couple separated, but the judge could suspect that sexual relations after separation constitutes evidence of a relationship before the separation.

When the supporting spouse committed adultery, the judge might punish them by awarding a larger amount of spousal support to the financially dependent spouse than the court otherwise might have. Also, the alimony might continue for a longer period of time than in a situation that did not involve infidelity.

If both spouses engaged in adultery during the marriage, the judge might consider the conduct as irrelevant to the issue of spousal support. North Carolina judges have a great deal of leeway in questions of alimony.

How Adultery Can Affect Property Distribution

Typically, adultery by either spouse does not change the distribution of property in a divorce in our state, but there is one notable exception. If a spouse squanders marital assets on the affair, the judge can consider that fact when dividing marital assets and debt.

For example, if someone ran up credit card debt on hotels, restaurants, and gifts for the affair, the judge could assign that debt to the adulterous spouse. If the cheating spouse spent assets rather than acquired debt on the affair, the judge could consider that fact during the property division.

Child Custody and Adultery

Having an affair during the marriage does not automatically preclude a spouse from getting custody of the children, but the adultery could cause the judge to view the non-cheating spouse as the better parent of the two spouses. As in so many issues a judge must consider during a divorce, the specific facts of the case will influence the judge’s decision about child custody.

Fault-Based Divorce

Although most divorces in North Carolina are no-fault, the spouse who did not commit adultery can seek a fault-based “divorce from bed and board” based on the grounds of adultery, which is a legal separation rather than a standard divorce. Allegations of adultery can have a significant impact on divorce in our state. You will want to talk with North Carolina family law attorneys if adultery might be an issue in your case. For help with your case contact our office today.