How Florida courts deal with adultery in divorce

My spouse is a cheater. I want to make him/her pay for this!

Well, first, you probably need to find another lawyer. If a person’s sole purpose in a divorce action is to “get back” at their partner, McNeal Legal, LLC might not be the right firm for you.

There are times when proving adultery IS relevant to a case, and certainly times when proving adultery is NOT relevant to a case.

Florida is a “no fault” divorce state. Neither party has to have a reason to get divorced, and the party filing need only state that there are “irreconcilable differences” or that the other party is mentally incompetent (legally speaking, not just that one party has this opinion of their spouse).

There are several instances where proving adultery can be very relevant to divorce proceedings, including the following:

1. An award of alimony. Florida Statutes §61.08(1) states, in part: “ The court may consider the adultery of either spouse and the circumstances thereof in determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded.” Certainly, the judge can consider the adultery when determining alimony. How much or how little the judge considers is up to each individual judge, and the facts of each case.
2. Child custody or time sharing: Florida Statues §61.13(3)(f) states, that the Court, in deciding parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, the Court can consider the “moral fitness” of the parties. So if one parent can prove that the other parent’s adultery had or is reasonably likely to have an adverse impact on the child, the judge might limit that parent’s custody or visitation. Again, this is totally within the discretion of the trail judge.
3. Equitable Distribution: Florida statutes §61.075(1)(i) states, in part, that the Court, in in addition to all other remedies available to do equity between the parties, in distributing the marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors, including: (i) The intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition. So, if one party can prove that the other had spent funds on a paramour during the course of the marriage, those funds may form the basis for an unequal distribution of marital assets and/or liabilities.
In Smith v. Smith, 378 So.2d 11 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980), the Court found it was not a case in which an errant spouse destroyed a marriage and now wanted to claim benefits equal to those which would have been provided had it remained intact. The Court in Smith noted: “[E]vidence [of adultery may not] be employed merely to decrease or enhance an award by way of punishment for conduct of which the court may disapprove, when that conduct is not related to the equitable considerations with which dissolution courts should be concerned under our no fault law.”
Cheating Spouse
As it relates to child custody or time sharing, Courts have found that the possibility of a negative impact is not sufficient. Jacoby v. Jacoby, 763 So.2d 410 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000). In determining a party’s moral fitness for purposes of custody, the trial court should focus on whether the parent’s conduct has had or is reasonably likely to have an adverse impact. Packard v. Packard, 697 So.2d 1292 (Fla. 1st DCA 1997). Although one parent has committed adultery, it may be in the child’s best interest for that parent to receive custody. Dinkel v. Dinkel, 322 So.2d 22 (Fla.1975). Adultery may or may not have a direct bearing on the welfare of a child of tender years. Id.; see also Farrow v. Farrow, 263 So.2d 588 (Fla. 2d DCA 1972)

While most people have the initial gut reaction to want their spouse to pay for the adultery, oftentimes, when people realize the cost associated with proving such claims versus the benefits, people tend to work more toward resolution than revenge.

The question for most people becomes an analysis of what is to gain from airing out the dirty laundry. Things that can possibly be gained from bringing forth an adultery claim as it relates to alimony or equitable distribution include additional funds from either (or not having to pay alimony or as much alimony), and more time with children in a time sharing plan.

The downsides to proving the adultery can include forever damaging the relationship with your ex-spouse (where children are involved), and possibly damaging the children, the expense associated with proving the adultery (oftentimes the use of a private investigator is required, which can get costly), and the difficulty of proving the adultery (many incidents of adultery involve hearsay testimony, which is not admissible; having eyewitnesses to the adultery, to the extent you would want to prove the adultery in order to alter the equitable distribution, alimony, or time sharing, are rare)