What is Adultery and How Does It Impact Divorce?

What is Adultery and How Does It Affect Divorce?

Going through the twists and turns of relationships can be challenging, especially when faced with a complex situation like adultery. A word that evokes strong emotions, adultery has significant implications in divorce, particularly in the UK. 

But what exactly is adultery in legal terms? And how does it influence the outcomes of a divorce? It is quite normal to have such questions, and our team of family lawyers are here to answer them and guide you.

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Explaining UK Adultery Laws 

When we talk about adultery, it’s not just about someone being unfaithful in a broad sense. The law in the UK is quite specific about what counts as adultery and what doesn’t.

Simply put, it’s when a married person has voluntary sexual intercourse with someone else of the opposite gender who isn’t their husband or wife. Importantly, other actions, like deep emotional connections, flirty texts, or even a passionate kiss, don’t count as adultery legally, no matter how hurtful they might be to the other spouse.

Does Adultery Affect Divorce?

Up until April 2022, adultery was a prominent ground for divorce application under the old divorce laws in the United Kindom. However, there was a substantial modification in divorce law in recent years when the concept of no-fault divorce was introduced, aiming to eliminate lengthy divorce proceedings and the ‘blame game’ that elevated the emotional unrest couples already faced during a marriage breakdown.

The relatively recent law removes the requirement to provide evidence of ‘conduct’ or ‘separation’ and replaces it with a simple requirement to make a statement outlining in detail the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership. This means that adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or separation durations can no longer be used as the sole reason for divorce. Now, couples can file for divorce without attributing any fault to either party. The goal behind this significant change in the divorce law was to make divorce proceedings less harsh and reduce conflicts, which often led to lengthy legal battles.

Adultery’s Impact on Financial Settlements in Divorce

There is a common misconception that engaging in adultery could potentially impact the results of a divorce settlement. Many people believe that adultery, being a moral lapse, should tilt the scales of financial settlements. However, when it comes to divorce financial settlement negotiations, the reality is more delicate.

English law, especially under the guiding principles of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, asserts that financial settlements must be made in line with fairness and the needs of both parties. Although the behaviour of a spouse, including committing adultery, might evoke strong emotions, it’s considered irrelevant un UK adultery laws when it comes to financial settlements of a divorce.

However, emotions inevitably play a role. Feelings of betrayal or guilt may make one partner more aggressive or submissive in negotiations. For instance, a spouse who feels wronged might fight for more assets if they are a victim of adultery, even if adultery has little impact on a divorce case.

Contrarily, a spouse admitting to adultery may feel willing to offer more than necessary, driven by guilt, which may not be in their best interests. Therefore, it becomes essential for both parties to consult family and divorce solicitors to gain higher clarity.

Does Adultery in Divorce Affect Child Custody?

Child custody is a sensitive topic that requires careful handling. The primary concern always remains the best interests of the child in any case of divorce. Adultery, irrespective of the pain it might cause between partners, is generally considered to be irrelevant when deciding child custody. However, the courts will always prioritise a child’s welfare, safety, and well-being.

If, for example, a parent’s new partner (with whom they committed adultery) poses a danger to the child, it might affect custody determinations. Still, adultery, in isolation, isn’t a determining factor in child custody.

While adultery might impair the perception of one’s spouse, it’s vital to separate personal hatred from the genuine concerns of child welfare. The courts, during divorce proceedings, will assess the living conditions, the emotional stability of the parent, and any potential risks to the child, including any arising from the person with whom the spouse has had sexual intercourse.

However, it’s also crucial to note that instances where adultery might influence custody decisions are rare and circumstantial. For example, let’s say a partner has engaged in adultery, and it can be proven that the new partner, especially if they are a member of the opposite sex, brings a harmful environment or influence around the child.

In that case, this could be taken into consideration by divorce courts when deciding on custody. However, normally, the grounds for divorce or behaviour outside of direct harm or risk to the child are not taken into account in these decisions.

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Adultery and Spousal Maintenance

During divorce proceedings, spousal support can often be a point of dispute. There’s a widespread belief that adultery, the reason for a divorce under UK laws, heavily influences the outcome of a divorce settlement, especially in areas of spousal maintenance. However, the reality can differ:

  • Short Wedding Period: If adultery took place in a short, childless marriage, it would not affect spousal support decisions.
  • Both Spouses are Financially Independent: In situations where both parties have steady incomes, the person of the opposite sex with whom a spouse has committed the affair might not influence maintenance decisions.
  • A Passing Affair: If you admit adultery, but it was just a fleeting romance, yet you primarily manage household chores, your need for assistance remains. This is especially true if your spouse’s earnings are considerably better compared to yours.
  • Starting Afresh Post-Adultery: An individual who applied for divorce on the grounds of adultery and now has a new partner may see a shift in financial dynamics. The combined incomes might reduce spousal maintenance needs.
  • A New Chapter with Remarriage: Remarriage after engaging in adultery can make one ineligible for spousal maintenance. It can also stop any spousal maintenance that was ordered by a court.

The complexities of divorce and separation in England, especially when adultery and divorce twist, highlight the significance of seeking guidance from divorce solicitors with extensive knowledge of family law. Their assistance can ensure that both parties understand the complexities of adultery, including divorce costs, child custody, and spousal support.

Who Pays the Fee for a Divorce Based on Adultery?

In divorce proceedings where adultery grounds for divorce are considered, it’s common to think engaging in adultery makes one responsible for paying the divorce fees. This assumption, however, isn’t always true. Here’s a closer look:

  1. Application Fees: When applying for a divorce in the UK based on adultery, the one initiating the process, often the unhappy party, typically pays for divorce as per the order to obtain a divorce.
  2. Legal Fees: The scenario becomes more complex regarding legal fees. Parties usually pay for their own solicitors’ fees unless a different structure is determined.

Dealing With Finances in a Divorce Involving Adultery

When adultery shakes the foundations of marriage, it’s not just emotions that are affected but also the financial aspects that tie two lives together. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and hurt, particularly if you’re considering ending the marriage due to a betrayal of trust.

However, when making the challenging decision to part ways, it’s crucial to maintain a clear head, particularly in terms of finances. This isn’t about forgetting or dismissing the pain caused by adultery but ensuring that the financial aftermath is dealt with justly and pragmatically.

It’s important to remember that, in legal terms, your financial settlement will be primarily influenced by elements such as potential future earnings, the welfare of any children, and overall fairness rather than the reason behind the divorce.

To secure and finalise your financial agreement, obtaining a financial consent order is a crucial step. This legal document, once endorsed by a Judge, is binding. It includes all the financial commitments agreed upon, from asset division and property splits to considerations about pensions and ongoing maintenance payments.

Without this, you run the risk of non-compliance by one party, leaving you without the legal grounds to enforce the agreed-upon terms. Therefore, safeguarding your financial rights and understanding in the aftermath of adultery remains as essential as managing the emotional journey you’re undergoing.


As we’ve uncovered, adultery, while emotionally impactful, holds a specific legal definition that may surprise many. It’s essential for couples to approach the difficult path of separation with clarity, knowledge, and the counsel of experienced professionals. In doing so, they ensure that both parties can transition with a sense of understanding and, ideally, closure.

Having a trusted family lawyer by your side can ensure that one’s rights are defended and achieve the best possible outcome. At Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, we pride ourselves on our deep understanding of the intricacies of divorce and family law in the UK.

Our experienced team is committed to guiding individuals through the challenges of divorce with compassion and expertise. For expert advice tailored to your unique circumstances or to discuss any questions you may have, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


Confessing adultery in a divorce may simplify proceedings by providing clear grounds for divorce. However, you should consult with a solicitor before making any admissions, as it might influence certain aspects of the divorce.

You can provide evidence of adultery through calls, texts, hotel room reservations, witnesses, etc. However, a straightforward way is if the party involved admits to the act.

No, you cannot use your own adultery as grounds for divorce. In the UK, if you’ve engaged in an affair, it’s up to your spouse to use it as a reason to file for divorce.

If someone suspects their spouse of adultery, it’s recommended they seek legal advice before taking action. Gathering evidence discreetly, without infringing on privacy laws, and considering counselling or mediation might also be beneficial.

Before April 2022, adultery was quoted as the cause for the breakdown in about 10% of divorces in England and Wales.

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