Don’t get so excited, cuckolds. The fact that your spouse cheated does not mean you will be absolved of your obligation to pay alimony, or that you will be entitled to a disproportionate distribution of marital property.
One of the most common misconceptions about the divorce process in New Jersey is the role played by marital fault, with adultery being the most often cited fault-based ground for divorce. Many litigants operate under the mistaken belief that their alimony and/or equitable distribution obligations (or entitlements) are impacted by their spouse’s adultery. Unfortunately, this is almost always untrue. Although no-fault divorces are the norm in New Jersey, adultery remains a viable ground for a fault-based divorce. But adultery, as with other fault-based divorce grounds, generally has no impact on alimony or equitable distribution.
The alimony and equitable distribution rights of one spouse are not extinguished, or even modified, solely because he or she committed adultery. The only exception is cases of egregious marital misconduct. For example, New Jersey courts have found such egregious marital misconduct in cases where one spouse incurs substantial debt, or spends significant amounts of marital funds, conducting his or her extramarital affair about which the other spouse had no knowledge. Another example of such egregious misconduct, although perhaps one more appropriately addressed via a Tevis claim (which is a topic for another blog), could be where one spouse contracts a sexually transmitted disease via his or her affair and passes it on to an unknowing spouse.
In these cases, a court may consider the egregious misconduct of one spouse in adjusting alimony and/or equitable distribution awards in favor of the aggrieved spouse. Even then, however, the marital misconduct is still only one of many factors to be considered by a court in determining alimony and equitable distribution. The weight given to the misconduct, in comparison to other statutory alimony and/or equitable distribution factors, is at the discretion of the court. So, whether or not and to what extent the adultery truly impacts alimony and/or equitable distribution still depends on the facts of each case.
Thomas A. Roberto, Esq. is a partner at the law firm of Adinolfi, Molotsky, Burick & Falkenstein, PA