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Can I sue for Adultery?
March 21, 2019
As a New York Divorce Lawyer, my clients ask me oftentime whether aultery is still a crime in New York State and whether they can sue their spouse for cheating on them. This article is designed to lend clarity to this issue because spouses that are hurt by a cheating spouse need answers to this. Penal law section 255.17 states that you can be found guilty of adultery if you or your spouse has sexual intercourse with another person during that time that you are married. However, you cannot actually depend on the State to prosecute anyone for adultery because the state of New York usually does not act against the perpetrator. There have been only approximatley 13 convictions for adultery over the last forty odd years and these convictions were attendant to and related to other more serious underlying crimes. This is because New York chooses not to prosecute adultery as a crime as a matter of public policy.
As for divorce in New York we have several grounds upon which to seek a divorce and again, one such ground is adultery. So, you can still sue for adultery but that does not always mean you will prevail because there are higher standards of proof that must be met for divorce courts you get you relief under those grounds. Also, while you can sue for adultery, since New York State has added irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as a ground for divorce the courts favor this as ground and you will be encouraged to proceed forward on this ground because it alleviates the court from having to have a trial on grounds. This is encouraged because, quite frankly, grounds no longer impact decisions on equitable distribution and support and child custody unless the factual basis of said act is so severe and egregious that it warrants special equitable relief.
For instance, for adultery to form a basis for any part of an equitable distribution award, you will have to prove in court that the adultery directly impacted that economic issue. An example of this might be that the cheating spouse may have spent some or all the marital assets on his or her paramour. In that instance a court will make an allowance for that amount and in its discretion try to reward the aggrieved spouse that amount which was spent on the extramarital affair. Another example as to how adultery might affect a divorce is has to do with custody. If the adultery was committed in a careless manner in front of the children or in an explicit manner and as such had an upsetting direct impact on the children, then a court might consider that as one of a myriad of factors in its determination as to what custodial arrangement would be necessary in the best interests of the children. Usually, however, a mere affair will not alter the way a court arrives at a custodial award.
Accordingly, if you are staying married because your spouse threatens that you will be punished for your adulterous act it is probably not a good reason. Most New York Courts do not concern themselves with grounds when making rulings for support, custody and distribution of property and it will probably have no impact on the result of your New York Divorce and your New York Divorce Lawyer will likely so advise. If after reading this article you are still convinced that you want to sue for divorce on the ground of adultery, then you must realize that you have a higher standard of proof. You can not just take the stand and tell the Judge you believe your husband or wife had an affair. Rather, in providing adultery you must have a witness other than yourself testify in a compelling manner that your spouse had sexual relations with a person outside the marriage and usually that person will be an investigator with corroborative media evidence such as a video or photographs of the spouse during the act. There are also defenses that your spouse can raise against an adultery allegation such as the fact that you might have agreed to an open marriage where both spouses agreed to extramarital affairs, you might have forgiven your spouse, or you might have cheated on your spouse as a form of revenge.
So, while New York Courts will still hear your case on the grounds of adultery, it is a cumbersome and costly process that involves airing your dirty laundry in a court of law and is unnecessarily expensive.
To conclude if you are looking to file for a New York divorce then the best grounds to precede on would be a no-fault divorce, or irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Using this ground no proof is required to be had, and the plaintiff merely alleges and states that the marriage has broken down for a period of in excess of six months.