Infidelity, Divorce, and the Legal Landscape

Infidelity, Divorce, and the Legal Landscape
Man with head in hands

Clients and opposing parties who can’t help but weave a past infidelity into every aspect of their divorce litigation will be disappointed to realize that they won’t receive vindication through the California family courts. Unless, of course, that infidelity is financial in nature. There are serious consequences for a spouse who tries to conceal, liquidate, encumber, or otherwise jeopardize community assets without consent of the other spouse. Fiduciary duties between spouses are taken seriously by the courts. The difficult part is demonstrating proof. And if one spouse is clever and financially savvy, untangling the knot may require extensive discovery, and more often than not, the hiring of a forensic expert. Clients and attorneys should have candid discussions about what resources are available to prove the fiduciary breach and weigh it against the benefit received if successful at trial. Read more of our thoughts on how infidelity impacts our work with clients.

Mat Purcell

“In any contested dissolution, trust is a huge hurdle to a reasonable resolution. When children are involved, trust between the parents can be the biggest hurdle to coming up with an agreement for a parenting plan. This becomes even more complicated when there has been infidelity in the relationship.  I have seen many cases where two otherwise capable, caring parents spent inordinate amounts of money litigating custody because one parent was convinced that the other parent’s infidelity was proof of poor judgment that should limit their parenting time. In cases where infidelity was an issue, having a good support system and professional assistance with co-parenting sooner rather than later can make a huge difference.”

Matthew Purcell, CFLs

Melissa Harman

“One of the biggest hurdles I face as the attorney when infidelity is involved in the case is keeping the focus on issues that are relevant to the family law matter. Whenever emotions, rather than the law, are the driving force of the case all of the parties involved pay—both financially and emotionally. While it is important for spouses to work through the emotions in a divorce, your attorney is not qualified to act as a therapist in most cases and it is not cost-effective to use them as a therapist. However, it is important to disclose these issues to your attorney so they can understand the emotional undertone of the case. There are also some cases where a separate claim may arise based on your spouse’s infidelity, such as if you become infected with a sexually transmitted disease or infection. You should always feel comfortable sharing with your family law attorney so that they can help you through this difficult process… or point you in the direction of a personal injury attorney.”

Melissa J. Harman, CFLS

Kristen Sellers

“Although California is a no-fault state, infidelity can have a negative impact on the divorce proceedings. An otherwise amicable divorce may become highly contentious if the cheating spouse allows the “other woman/ other man” to actively participate in the proceedings, such as sitting in on meetings with the attorney and attending court hearings. Although it can be helpful to have the support of a new significant other through the divorce, emotions are running high and having that person front and center only exacerbates an already highly emotional process.”

Kristen L. Sellers, CFLS

Michelle Stowell

“Since California is a no fault state, infidelity on the part of a spouse is usually not an important factor in deciding either the division of assets or custody. One exception to that rule is when community funds (money acquired during marriage) are used to either finance the affair (think trips and gifts) or to pay the expenses of the girlfriend or boyfriend. In my career, I have had only one case were I was able to trace money that Cheater Husband used to pay the living costs of his Mistress. In that case, Husband used community property to pay for his mistress’s apartment, furniture and car. The guy was careless to pay these expenses using his checking account – so it was easy to follow the paper trail by looking at the bank statements. Since Husband did not cover his tracks very well, he was ordered to reimburse the community estate (Wife is one-half of the community, so she received one-half of what Cheater Husband paid out for his Mistress’s expenses). In most cases where infidelity has been an issue (and there are many of them), the costs associated with proving community funds were used on an extra-marital affair outweigh the benefits – i.e. it costs more to prove than the proof is worth. The above exception proves the rule.

Michelle L. Stowell, CFLS

Purcell Stowell PC

Purcell Stowell PC is a Folsom-Based full-service Family Law Firm that serves clients throughout California. The firm’s founders are recognized by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization as Certified Family Law Specialists and regularly represent business owners, professionals, and other high net worth individuals (or their spouses) in divorce, premarital agreements, guardianships, and related actions.

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Purcell Stowell PC

Purcell Stowell PC is a Folsom-Based full-service Family Law Firm that serves clients throughout California. The firm’s founders are recognized by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization as Certified Family Law Specialists and regularly represent business owners, professionals, and other high net worth individuals (or their spouses) in divorce, premarital agreements, guardianships, and related actions.