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Cheating and Divorce: Is Adultery Illegal in Washington State?


When it comes to divorce, emotions run high — especially if one spouse's infidelity has led to the divorce.

If you're navigating the complexities of divorce in Washington state and wondering how an affair could come into play, you can seek the guidance of a knowledgeable contested divorce attorney. Hodgson Law Office will help you gain insights and empower yourself with the right information to protect your interests.

Here, we delve into the intricate details of Washington divorce laws and explore whether an adulterous relationship matters in the divorce process.

The Legality of Adultery in Washington State

Washington does not have a law making adulterous acts a crime. However, these laws are still on the books in many states. For example, neighboring Idaho only decriminalized adultery in 2022, and it is still a misdemeanor or felony in 15 states.

These laws have not been enforced in decades. But while adultery is no longer prosecuted as a crime, it can significantly affect divorce proceedings in many states.

Understanding Divorce Laws and Infidelity in Washington State

Understanding Divorce Laws and Infidelity in Washington State

Can infidelity affect your divorce in Washington state? We will explore the intricate aspects of divorce laws in Washington, with a specific focus on the impact of adultery.

We'll explain whether infidelity will influence grounds for divorce, property division, child custody, parenting plans, and spousal support considerations in Washington. You can gain valuable insights into the legal implications of infidelity and its relevance in the courtroom.

Washington Is a No-Fault State

Washington is a no-fault state for divorce. This means that neither spouse is required to prove fault or wrongdoing in order to obtain a divorce. This approach recognizes that marriages can break down due to a variety of reasons, including irreconcilable differences, without attributing blame to one party.

In a no-fault divorce, the court focuses on the dissolution of the marriage rather than the reasons behind it. Couples in Washington must file for divorce based on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, which essentially means that the spouses have experienced a breakdown of the marital relationship that cannot be repaired. It is enough for one spouse to state that the marriage cannot be fixed for the court to grant a divorce.

In the context of adultery and divorce, Washington's no-fault principle applies. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 26.09.030 outlines how to petition for a divorce. The code does not mention infidelity or adultery and only states that the partnership must be "irretrievably broken."

Thus, infidelity is not explicitly considered as a factor in determining the division of marital property, spousal support, or child custody arrangements.

Instead, the court's primary focus is to ensure a fair and equitable resolution of these matters, taking into account factors such as the financial situation of each spouse, the best interests of any children involved, and other relevant considerations.

Legal Implications of Adultery in Property Division

In Washington state, the court follows the principle of "community property" when dividing marital assets and debts during a divorce. RCW 26.09.080 states that all property acquired during the marriage is considered community property and is subject to an equal and just division.

The court may consider various factors when determining the division of property in Washington, such as:

  • The length of the marriage or partnership.
  • The types of assets they own, both jointly and separately.
  • The financial situations of both partners.
  • The best interests of any children, especially regarding which spouse receives the marital home.

The law states that the court is required to make these decisions "without regard to misconduct". Essentially, this means that one spouse's committing adultery should have no effect on the final divorce decree.

While adultery itself might not affect the division of assets, certain related behaviors can impact the couple's finances and have an indirect effect. For example, suppose that the cheating spouse took money out of a joint savings account to purchase a car for their affair partner. This may be considered a form of dissipation of marital assets, and the courts could take it into account during a divorce settlement.

If one spouse has spent joint assets on an affair partner, it is essential to consult with a qualified divorce attorney to understand how this dissipation of assets for the benefit of an extramarital relationship can affect your divorce case.

Impact of Adultery on Child Custody and Parenting Plans

Impact of Adultery on Child Custody and Parenting Plans

Washington family law prioritizes the best interests of the child when determining child custody and parenting plans. RCW 26.09.187 states the relevant issues in deciding child custody, which include:

  • The child's relationship with each parent.
  • The child's physical and emotional well-being.
  • Each parent's ability to meet the child's needs.
  • The wishes of each parent.
  • The wishes of the child, if they are old enough to make a reasoned decision.

Infidelity, by itself, is not a decisive element in custody matters. However, if adultery affects the child's welfare or poses a risk to their safety, the judge may take it into consideration when determining custody arrangements.

For example, suppose that the cheating spouse's new partner was previously convicted of domestic abuse or violence. Proof of this could absolutely affect the child custody decision.

If you believe that your spouse's affair partner poses a risk to your child's physical or emotional health, it is crucial to provide evidence to support this belief. Hodgson Law Office can review this evidence, explain how it might affect divorce proceedings, and guide you through custody negotiations.

Alimony and Maintenance Considerations

Alimony in Washington, also known as a maintenance order, may be awarded by the court in certain divorce cases. RCW 26.09.090 describes the elements that courts should consider when awarding alimony, which include:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • The financial resources of each spouse
  • The skills and employment potential of the spouse requesting alimony
  • The standard of living established during the marriage

Adultery or other types of marital misconduct are not considered when determining alimony.

However, if the adulterous behavior affected the couple's financial situation, such as significant dissipation of marital assets, it could be relevant to the court's decision. Each case is unique, so you should consult with a divorce lawyer to understand how adultery may impact the awarding of alimony in your specific circumstances.

Factors Influencing the Significance of Adultery in a Divorce

Because Washington is a no-fault divorce state, the act of adultery itself does not affect divorce outcomes. However, cheating is not completely irrelevant. This table outlines how an affair during the marriage could affect a divorce settlement.

Factor Explanation
Dissipation of Assets If the adulterous spouse has dissipated significant marital assets on the extramarital affair, it may impact the division of property.
Impact on Children If the adultery has directly affected the well-being or safety of the children, it may influence child custody and parenting plan decisions.
Financial Implications Adultery leading to financial harm to the innocent spouse can affect spousal support considerations.
Reconciliation Efforts Attempts made by the spouses to reconcile the marriage after the discovery of adultery may minimize its significance in the divorce process.
Emotional Impact The emotional distress caused by the adultery and its impact on the innocent spouse may be taken into account in various aspects of the divorce.
Prenuptial Agreement If the couple has a valid pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement that addresses the issue of adultery, it may impact the consequences of the divorce.
Reputation and Public Image Adultery that causes significant harm to the innocent spouse's reputation and public image may be considered by the court in certain cases.

Divorce settlements are decided on a case-by-case basis, and the court has some discretion when making decisions. Seeking guidance from a knowledgeable divorce lawyer is crucial to understanding the specific implications of adultery in your divorce and ensuring you receive appropriate legal advice.

Adultery and Mediation/Alternative Dispute Resolution

Adultery can have implications in mediation or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes in a divorce case in Washington State. Divorce mediation and ADR methods focus on resolving conflicts outside of court, allowing the divorcing parties to negotiate and reach agreements on various issues, including property division, child custody, and spousal support.

The mediator or ADR professional plays a crucial role in facilitating productive discussions, managing emotions, and helping the parties find common ground despite the presence of adultery. However, the pain wrought by an adulterous relationship can affect the spouses' dynamics and emotions during the process.

One spouse's affair may impact the level of trust between the parties and their willingness to cooperate. The betrayed spouse may seek compensation or concessions as a result of the adultery, while the cheating spouse may feel defensive or unwilling to negotiate.

Ultimately, the significance of adultery in mediation or ADR depends on the specific circumstances and the willingness of the parties to find mutually agreeable solutions.

The mediator or ADR professional can help guide the process and ensure that both parties have the opportunity to express their concerns and interests with the goal of reaching a fair and satisfactory resolution.

The Role of Evidence in Proving Adultery

The Role of Evidence in Proving Adultery

Washington is a no-fault divorce state, which means that fault or marital misconduct are not considered grounds for divorce and do not affect alimony or child custody. However, evidence related to adultery can still be relevant and impact other aspects of the divorce proceedings.

For example, judges may consider the amount of money spent on the affair partner or the affair's effect on the spouses' children before issuing a final decision. Presenting substantial and credible proof is essential in these cases.

This evidence may include testimonies, photographs, text messages, emails, or other forms of electronic communication demonstrating that a relationship existed between the spouse accused of adultery and a third party. It's important to note that mere suspicions or circumstantial evidence may not be sufficient to affect the outcome of the case.

Consult with an experienced family law attorney to understand the specific requirements and admissibility rules in Washington state. A divorce lawyer can guide you through the process of gathering and presenting evidence, ensuring that it aligns with the state's legal standards and increases the likelihood of a favorable outcome in your case.

Get Legal Help for Adultery During Divorce: Hodgson Law Office Can Assist You in WA

While Washington is a no-fault divorce state, courts may still consider the impact of adultery when making decisions. Understanding the legal nuances surrounding adultery in divorce and its potential consequences is crucial for anyone going through the divorce process.

At Hodgson Law Office, we understand family law matters, including divorce cases involving adultery. Our experienced attorneys are well-versed in Washington state divorce laws and can provide you with the guidance and support you need.

If you are dealing with the complexities of adultery in your divorce, don't try to go it alone. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and let us help you navigate the legal process, protect your rights, and work toward a fair resolution.


Does adultery impact the length of the divorce process in Washington state?

Adultery itself does not directly impact the length of the divorce process. The length of the divorce process in Washington state depends primarily on the complexity of the case, the level of cooperation between spouses, and court schedules.

Should I consult with an attorney if adultery is a factor in my divorce?

Consulting with an attorney is advisable if adultery is a factor in your divorce settlement and if you anticipate your spouse requesting alimony. An experienced attorney can provide guidance on the legal implications of adultery in Washington state and how it may impact your specific situation. They can help protect your rights and interests, ensuring you navigate the divorce process with clarity and understanding.

What if both spouses committed adultery during the marriage?

Washington is a no-fault divorce state, which means that adultery does not play a significant role in dividing property or determining spousal support. Even if both spouses committed adultery, the infidelity itself generally does not impact the outcome of the divorce.

How does the presence of a prenuptial agreement affect the role of adultery in a divorce?

The presence of a prenuptial agreement in Washington State may alter the impact of adultery in a divorce. Some prenuptial agreements specifically address adultery and its consequences, including provisions that affect property division or spousal support. However, these agreements do not always hold up in court. It's crucial to review the terms of the prenuptial agreement to understand its implications on the role of adultery in divorce proceedings.

Mark D. Hodgson

Mark D. Hodgson

Mark D. Hodgson and his legal team at Hodgson Law Office provide exceptional, personalized representation in family law and divorce cases. With a commitment to trust, integrity, and vigorous advocacy, Hodgson Law Office offers reliable and compassionate legal assistance for all your family law issues.

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