Adultery in Divorce: How It Impacts Child Custody and Child Support

Adultery can significantly impact child custody and child support arrangements, and it’s crucial for anyone going through a divorce to understand how this issue can affect their case.

When proven, adultery can be considered a factor in determining and limiting child custody. 

This article will explore how adultery can impact child custody and child support arrangements and give you some real-life examples. 

Factors Considered by the Court When Determining If Adultery Will Impact Child Custody

When a court is determining whether adultery should impact child custody, they will consider various factors, including:

1. The Best Interests of the Child

The court’s primary consideration in a custody case is always the child’s well-being. The court will assess which parent can provide the most stable and nurturing environment for the child, considering their physical, emotional, and educational needs.

2. The Nature and Extent of the Adultery

The court will consider the specifics of the extramarital affair, including how long it lasted, how it was discovered, and whether it has impacted the child’s emotional or physical well-being.

3. The Impact of Adultery on The Child

The court will assess whether the adultery has caused the child emotional harm or trauma, such as interfering with the child’s relationship with the parent who did not engage in adultery.

4. The Conduct of Both Parents

The court may also consider whether both parents engaged in extramarital affairs and any other behavior that may affect the child’s best interests, such as substance abuse, domestic violence, unsafe living situation, the criminal record of the lover, or neglect.

5. The Ability of Each Parent to Provide for The Child

The court will also consider the ability of each parent to provide for the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs, including their income, living situation, and support system.

6. The Child’s Age 

The child’s age and gender are important factors that can affect custody arrangements. The court will consider the child’s developmental needs, such as their need for stability, routine, consistency, and emotional and physical well-being. 

7. The Child’s Relationship with Each Parent

The court will consider the child’s relationship with each parent, including their emotional bond, communication, and interaction with each parent. 

The court will assess the quality of the parent-child relationship and any history of abuse, neglect, or alienation.

8. Each Parent’s Ability to Provide a Stable Home Environment

The court will consider each parent’s ability to provide a stable and safe home environment for the child, including the quality of their housing, neighborhood, decision-making, and lifestyle. The court will also assess each parent’s ability to provide the child with a consistent routine and structure.

9. Each Parent’s Willingness to Encourage a Relationship Between the Child and the Other Parent

The court will also consider each parent’s willingness to encourage a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent in light of the affair. 

The court will assess whether each parent is willing to promote a positive relationship, encourage communication, and avoid negative comments or behavior that could harm the child’s relationship with the other parent.

Real-life Impact of Adultery on Child Custody

Over the years, I have seen courts take adultery very seriously, but whether the affair will affect custody always depends on the facts of each individual case. I will give you a couple of examples. 

Example One – The Court Gave Primary Custody to One Parent Because of Adultery

If a court finds that a parent’s adultery is causing emotional harm to the child or undermining their relationship with the other parent, they may determine that it is not in the child’s best interests to award custody to that parent.

Let’s look at the high-profile divorce of actor Charlie Sheen and his ex-wife Denise Richards. During that divorce, Richards alleged that Sheen had engaged in numerous extramarital affairs during their marriage and had been abusive towards her. 

Richards produced evidence of the negative impact Sheen’s choices were having on the children. As a result, Richards was granted primary physical custody of their two daughters, while Sheen was awarded visitation rights.

From my own practice, I can tell you that I have had cases where the decisions made by a parent during the affair showed such a lack of good judgment that the judge found the adultery reflected the parent’s poor character. 

In those cases, the court found the parents could not provide a stable and safe environment for the child. In each case, the judge limited custody and visitation rights of the parent having an affair. 

Example Two – A Court Found That Adultery Made No Impact on Child Custody

In some cases, adultery may have little or no impact on a custody decision. 

In my own practice, I have had cases where both parents have engaged in extramarital affairs. In those cases, the judge did not consider adultery a significant factor in determining custody. 

In another case we were involved in, a court decided that a mother’s extramarital affair did not impact her ability to parent her children. 

In that case, the mother had engaged in an affair while separated from her husband. The court ultimately determined that the affair had not negatively impacted the children’s lives or the mother’s ability to provide and care for her children.  

The court granted joint legal custody to both parents, with the mother having primary custody of the children and the father having visitation. 

The Impact of Adultery on Child Support

In most cases, adultery will not significantly impact child support orders. 

Typically, an affair will only impact child support if the adultery resulted in a significant expenditure of marital funds. The court may consider this when determining the appropriate level of child support.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Does Adultery Always Impact Child Custody and Child Support?

No, adultery does not always impact child custody and child support. The impact of adultery will depend on the case’s specific circumstances, including the extent to which the adultery affected the parents’ ability to care for the child and the child’s well-being.

Q. What if Both Parents Committed Adultery?

If both parents committed adultery, the court may consider this when making custody and support decisions. In some cases, the court may find that the adultery of both parties cancels each other out and has no significant impact on the case. However, the court will still consider all relevant factors when making these decisions.

Q. How Can I Protect My Child During a Divorce Involving Adultery?

If you are going through a divorce involving adultery, it’s important to prioritize your child’s well-being. Some tips for protecting your child during this process include:

  • Encouraging open and honest communication with your child about the divorce and any issues related to the adultery.
  • Avoiding speaking negatively about the other parent in front of your child.
  • Prioritizing your child’s emotional and physical needs.
  • Working with an experienced family law attorney who can advocate for your child’s best interests.

Q. How Can I Prove Adultery in a Divorce Case?

Proving adultery in a divorce case can be difficult, as it often involves circumstantial evidence. Some ways to gather evidence of adultery may include:

  • Hire a private investigator to gather evidence.
  • Review phone records, emails, and social media activity for evidence of infidelity.
  • Obtain eyewitness testimony from friends or family members who may know about the affair.

It’s important to note that the admissibility of evidence of adultery may vary depending on the laws in your state.

If you want to learn more about how to prove adultery, I have written an article providing a detailed explanation: Exposed: What You Need to Prove Adultery and Win Your Divorce.


Adultery can significantly impact child custody and child support arrangements in a divorce case. However, the impact of adultery will depend on the case’s specific circumstances, including the extent to which the adultery affected the parents’ ability to care for the child and the child’s well-being. 

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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