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Top seven myths of adultery

Article updated June 2024

Debunking adultery myths: what you need to know

When an affair comes to light, it can feel like the foundation of a marriage has been shattered. Despite the prevalence of adultery in marital breakdowns, many misconceptions persist about how it affects divorce proceedings. With the introduction of no-fault divorce in April 2022, the landscape of divorce law in the UK has changed significantly.

What was divorce like before no-fault divorce?

Previously, even if both partners mutually agreed that the marriage was over, no wrongdoing had taken place, or both parties were equally ‘at fault’, there was a legal requirement to assign blame to just one party if they wished to divorce in under two years (the minimum separation period).

What were the five grounds for divorce?

  1. Unreasonable behaviour: Formerly the most common grounds for divorce, it covered many behaviours and didn’t require admission.
  2. Adultery: This required either a formal admission of sexual intercourse with someone else or proof that it had occurred.
  3. Separationtwo years: When couples had lived apart for two years, and the other party consented to divorce.
  4. Separation, five years: When couples had lived apart for five years or more they no did not need their ex-partner’s consent to divorce.
  5. Desertion: Fundamentally different to separation, desertion referred to abandonment.

Can you divorce because of adultery now?

Since April 2022, no-fault divorce allows couples to divorce without citing specific reasons. This means the only grounds for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of your relationship. There is no longer a need to assign blame or prove adultery has taken place. As a result, there is no longer a formal way to cite adultery as the reason your relationship has ended.

Top seven myths of adultery

Although the laws affecting divorce because of adultery changed for the better when no-fault divorce was introduced, myths still persisted. Here, we separate fact from fiction.

Myth one: Adultery covered any sexual behaviour

This was not true. Adultery was defined only as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who were not married to each other but at least one of whom was a married person. Other forms of sexual encounter did not legally constitute adultery, nor did adultery between members of the same sex. Attempts to commit adultery did not count but could be used as examples of unreasonable behaviour.

Myth two: You must name the person who your husband/wife committed adultery with

There was no requirement to do this, unless you thought the respondent was going to defend proceedings. In which case, the person with whom it was alleged your partner had committed adultery was referred to as the ‘co-respondent’ and was sent copies of the divorce petition.

Myth three: Adultery petitions were common

In fact, citing adultery as grounds for divorce was rare primarily because of the risk involved. Not only did the person filing the divorce petition have to prove adultery had taken place, but their partner also had to admit to it.

If the respondent failed to admit to adultery, both parties were required to give evidence at a court hearing. Direct evidence of adultery was often impossible, so circumstantial evidence could be relied on, resulting in the judge making a decision based on the balance of probability.

Myth four: You would get a better divorce settlement because your spouse cheated

This was a prevalent misconception rooted in a sense of injustice because of adultery. But the reality was that adulterous behaviour had, and still has, little bearing on your divorce financial settlement.

Myth five: Adultery petitions had no time limits

Incorrect. Unbelievably, if you discovered your other half had cheated on you but continued to live together for a period exceeding six months, you were barred from relying on adultery as grounds for ending your marriage.

Myth six: Adultery before marriage still counted if you find out about it after the marriage

Unfortunately for many, if an affair took place before marriage, then it was not legally considered adultery and couldn’t be cited as a legitimate grounds for divorce. It was only considered adultery if the affair continued after marriage.

Myth seven: It was not adultery if you had already separated from your ex-spouse

Even if you were separated from your spouse, if you had sex with a member of the opposite sex you were legally committing adultery as your marriage had not yet ended.

Get in touch

If you are looking for advice on adultery and divorce, please do contact our Client Care Team here.

Related links

Can a relationship go back to normal after cheating?

Micro Cheating and Emotional Cheating: Is all cheating equal?

How to get divorced

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. JamesB says:

    The legal profession insistence that conduct is not a factor in divorce is calling black white. Therefore we need pre and post nups to take the emotion out of a party trying to punish the other and cleaner divorces. Judges and government interference between man and woman is not appreciated and is counter to the bible.

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