What is Adultery?

Adultery is defined as sexual intercourse between a married person and someone who is not their spouse. It is typically considered a serious breach of the marriage vows and is often grounds for divorce. In some countries and states, adultery may also be a criminal offense.

Adultery is one of the most common reasons people come to my office seeking a divorce. If my client has just discovered the affair, they are typically emotionally wrecked.

I always advise my clients that it is difficult to feel and think at the same time. If you have just discovered your spouse is having an affair, take some time to process the pain before making any decisions that will impact the remainder of your life. 

Is Adultery a Crime?

In some states, adultery is a criminal offense. In jurisdictions where it is a crime, it is typically classified as a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine or a short term in jail. While adultery is illegal in some states, it is rarely prosecuted as a crime. 

It is important to note that even in jurisdictions where adultery is not a criminal offense, it may have serious consequences in a civil case or in divorce proceedings. 

For instance, an unfaithful spouse may have a more challenging time getting alimony, or there may be an unequal division of marital property. 

In Which States is Adultery a Crime?

In the United States, adultery is a crime in some states but not others. Specifically, adultery is a crime in the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

For more specifics on the legality of adultery in these states, you can read, Is Adultery Illegal? A State-by-State Guide.

It is worth noting that even in states where adultery is a crime, it is rarely prosecuted. The law against adultery is often thought to be out of date and is no longer enforced in most jurisdictions.

It is also worth noting that adultery can have social and personal consequences, such as damaging relationships with friends, family, and colleagues and causing emotional pain and damage to the individuals involved.

What is the Penalty for Committing Adultery?

In states where it is a crime, adultery is typically classified as a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine or a short term in jail. In most states, a misdemeanor is a crime punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in jail.

How Common Is Adultery?

It is hard to know how common adultery is because it is often not reported or talked about. 

According to a 2019 Institute for Family Studies survey, about 20% of married American men and 10% of American women say they have had sex with a person other than their spouse while married. 

This figure is similar to estimates from previous years. It is worth noting that this figure represents the percentage of people who admit to committing adultery, and the number of people who have engaged in it may be higher.

Factors that may contribute to the prevalence of adultery include:

  • Individual characteristics, such as personality, values, and history of infidelity.
  • Relationship factors, such as communication, satisfaction, and commitment.
  • External factors, such as opportunities for cheating, cultural attitudes toward infidelity, and societal changes.

It is important to remember that adultery is a severe breach of trust in a relationship and can have significant negative consequences for all parties involved.

What Impact Does Adultery Have on a Divorce Settlement? 

In some jurisdictions, adultery can impact a divorce settlement. Depending on the laws of the place where the divorce is being sought, adultery can affect the divorce settlement in different ways.

In some states, for example, adultery is a “fault” and a ground for divorce, meaning that one spouse can seek a divorce because the other spouse committed adultery. 

In these states, the spouse who had an affair may get less regarding property, alimony, and other parts of the divorce agreement. 

But it’s important to note that in many states, the courts no longer consider adultery at all when deciding how to settle a divorce.

Even in states where adultery is not a “fault” ground for divorce, it may still be relevant in certain aspects of the divorce settlement. For example, if one spouse has used marital funds to support an extramarital affair, a court may consider this when dividing the couple’s assets.

I have written an article about this. The legal term is “dissipation of marital assets.” If you want to learn more about this, click this article: Dissipation of Marital Assets.

It’s important to remember that the laws that apply to a divorce settlement can vary depending on where you live and the specifics of your case. If you are considering getting a divorce, you should always talk to an experienced family law attorney.

Can a Marriage Survive Adultery? 

A marriage can survive adultery, but it will depend on the specifics of the relationship and how willing both partners are to work through the problems that arise because of the affair.

If both spouses are willing to communicate openly and honestly about their feelings, seek help from a pastor, rabbi, therapist, or counselor, and work to rebuild trust and their relationship, it may be possible to move past the betrayal of adultery and restore the marriage.

This can be a very complicated process that will take a lot of time and work.

It is also important to note that not all marriages can survive adultery. In some cases, the betrayal and damage caused by the affair may be too great to overcome, and the spouses may decide that it is best to end the marriage. 

Ultimately, the decision to stay together or to separate will depend on the individual circumstances of the relationship and the desires and needs of both spouses.

What percentage of Marriages Survive Adultery? 

It is difficult to determine the exact percentage of marriages that survive adultery, as it will depend on a number of factors, including the individual circumstances of the relationship, the willingness of both spouses to work through the issues that arose as a result of the affair, and the level of support and resources available to the couple.

According to an extensive study published by the American Psychological Association, 53% of couples who experienced adultery divorced within five years, even with counseling.

According to the research, unfaithful couples are three times more likely to divorce than monogamous ones. But it’s important to note that this number is just an estimate and may not be true for all marriages where there is adultery.

Ultimately, the decision to stay together or to separate after adultery is personal and will depend on the individual circumstances of the relationship and the desires and needs of both spouses. 

If both partners are willing to work through the problems that came up because of the affair and are committed to rebuilding their relationship, it may be possible to get over the betrayal and save the marriage. 

But in some cases, the damage caused by the affair may be too significant to fix, and the couple may decide that the best thing to do is to end the marriage.

Strategies for Coping with Adultery

Discovering that your spouse has committed adultery can be a traumatic and devastating experience. If you are struggling with the aftermath of an affair, it may be helpful to try some of the following strategies for coping:

  1. Seek help: It can be helpful to talk to someone about your feelings, whether a trusted friend, a family member, a pastor, a rabbi or a therapist.
  2. Take care of your body and mind: Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being during this difficult time is essential. Try to eat well, get enough sleep, and engage in physical activities or hobbies that bring you joy and relaxation.
  3. Communicate openly: Communicate openly and honestly with your spouse about your feelings and needs. It is also helpful to seek the guidance of a therapist or counselor to facilitate these conversations.
  4. Set boundaries: It may be necessary to protect yourself and your well-being. This may include setting limits on communication with the person your spouse had an affair with or taking a break from the relationship to focus on yourself.
  5. Make a decision: Ultimately, you will need to decide whether to try to repair the relationship or move on. It can be helpful to seek the guidance of a therapist or counselor as you make this decision.

It’s important to remember that getting over an affair is a process, and it may take time to work through the problems that come up because of it. You might also find it helpful to talk to a therapist or counselor to help you through this challenging time.

Should You Divorce After Adultery? 

Whether or not to get a divorce after adultery is a very personal choice that depends on many things, like the specifics of the relationship, the level of trust and commitment between the partners, and what each person wants and needs.

If you are thinking about divorcing your partner after they have been unfaithful, it may help to think about the following:

  1. Your feelings: Take some time to reflect on your feelings about the adultery and the future of your relationship. Do you feel the betrayal is irreparable, or do you believe the relationship can be repaired with time and effort?
  2. Your relationship: Consider the overall state of your relationship. Are other issues or problems in the relationship contribute to the adultery, or was the affair an isolated event?
  3. Your options: Think about your options for moving forward. Are you willing to work on the relationship with the help of a therapist or counselor, or do you feel it is best to end the marriage?

It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when to divorce after adultery. 

Ultimately, the choice will come down to the specifics of your relationship and the wants and needs of both partners. As you think about your options, it might help to talk to a therapist or counselor.

What Impact Does Adultery Have on the Children?

For children, finding out that a parent has been unfaithful can be a hard and confusing thing to deal with. It may cause betrayal, sadness, and confusion and lead to trust and attachment problems. 

Children may also feel stress and anxiety because of the fights and uncertainty that often happen when adultery is discovered.

Adultery can also have practical effects on children, such as the possibility of their parents getting a divorce or splitting up, changes in where they live or how much money they have, or exposure to tension and fighting between their parents.

The effects of adultery on children will depend on many things, such as their age and level of maturity, their personalities and ways of dealing with problems, and the amount of support and resources they have. 

It is crucial for parents to know how adultery could affect their children and to do what they can to lessen the effects as much as possible. 

This could mean talking to the kids about the situation in a way that is age-appropriate and comforting, getting help from a therapist or counselor, and giving the kids a stable and supportive environment.

Should You Stay Married After Adultery for the Children?

Understandably, you may be considering staying in the marriage for the sake of your children. It is natural to want to provide a stable and loving environment for your children. In some cases, staying in the marriage may be the best option for them.

It’s essential to think about your and your kids’ long-term health when making this choice. While it may be difficult for your children to adjust to the changes that come with a separation or divorce, it may be ultimately better for them to grow up in a household with love, respect, and trust. 

If the betrayal of adultery has damaged the trust and commitment in your relationship to the point where it is impossible to repair it, it may be best for you and your children to move on.

When making decisions about your relationship, it’s always a good idea to talk to a pastor, rabbi, therapist, or counselor. They can help you think about the effects on you and your kids and support you as you go through this challenging time.

What to Read Next


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

Recent Posts