The Virginia divorce laws that deal with adultery are probably not as strict as you would think. When adultery is an issue, most women think that there will be serious legal repercussions. Usually, though, that’s not the case.
Adultery is traumatic in a unique way, because there is such a feeling of total betrayal of trust. It’s a major, fundamental violation of the marriage, and it often leads the spouse who has been cheated on feeling angry, hurt, and resentful. It often adds an extra layer of difficulty to the divorce, because the need to feel that the other spouse is being “punished” for their bad behavior often overrides any feelings of fairness.
The truth is, though, that, legally at least, adultery has very little impact on the divorce. Though it’s true that in Virginia adultery is still a crime (a misdemeanor), it is very, very rarely prosecuted. As far as your divorce is concerned, it likely won’t have any impact at all on the division of assets. The way the judge looks at it, divorce is a business transaction—and there’s not much room for finger pointing. Based on the way the statute is written, the judge CAN consider the fault of one party and how it contributed to the breakdown of the marriage, adultery is hardly a golden ticket. Don’t assume that just because the law says the judge can consider it that he (or she) will. In most cases, judges don’t seem to feel like adultery warrants one party receiving substantially less of the assets. It’s bad, and it may have contributed to the breakdown of the marriage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the other spouse deserves a greater share of the marital assets. In a divorce, the judge mostly wants to “equitably” divide the assets in a way that will allow both parties to start over.
There is ONE area of the law, though, that protects the spouse who didn’t cheat. In Virginia, if you committed adultery (and the other side can prove it), you can’t ask for spousal support. So, if your husband has cheated on you, he can’t then ask your for spousal support. Likewise, if you have cheated on your husband (and the other side can prove it), you won’t be able to ask for spousal support.
Like anything else, it’s important to try to stay as objective as possible. Don’t let your hurt feelings encourage you to make a bad decision. Keep in mind that adultery probably won’t play as big of a role as you feel like it should, and that fighting it in court will probably only mean that more of your money goes to attorney’s fees and court costs—and less goes to both of you. Meet with an attorney and get a good idea of what battles are worth fighting and what aren’t. Remember that you’ll need as much as possible to start fresh after your final divorce decree is entered, and you want to make the best choices you can to protect yourself until then.