Is there an adultery law in Tennessee?


Is there an adultery law in Tennessee?

Is there an adultery law in Tennessee?

Is there an adultery law in Tennessee?

Yes, adultery is a fault-based ground for divorce in Tennessee.  Which spouse caused the divorce matters and can be an important factor when awarding alimony.  Also, adultery can impact child custody orders.  Also, if an adulterous affair resulted in marital assets being dissipated, then equitable distribution of marital property may favor the innocent spouse. Yes, adultery directly impacts several aspects of divorce in Tennessee law. Each of these points is discussed below.

Is adultery against the law in tennessee?  Adultery is not a crime in Tennessee. The type of marital misconduct at issue here is a spouse’s infidelity having engaged in sexual relations with someone other than his or her spouse. With an allegation the guilty spouse committed adultery, the circumstances must have been voluntary and not forced upon the spouse against his or her will.  Although adultery can be both grounds for divorce and a factor the courts consider for determining alimony, the courts are not supposed to use adultery in a punitive manner.

What is considered adultery in a divorce?  In Tennessee, many courts will consider an innapprpriate relationship to have the same impact as adultery even if there is not direct evidence of actual sexual intercourse.   Adultery in divorce is marital misconduct.  This misconduct is sufficient to support a claim that the extramarital affair is legal reason for why a divorce should be granted and the bonds of matrimony dissolved.  Particular circumstances matter.  Examples of marital misconduct other than sexual intercourse could include spending the night together in a hotel room, significant funds spent on travel, dining out, and expensive gifts, and regular absence from the marital residence.

Adultery Legal Consequences:

Adultery as Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee

That one spouse’s adultery may form the basis for the other spouse’s Complaint for Divorce is set forth in T.C.A. § 36-4-101 along with all other grounds for divorce. Tennessee is not a “no-fault divorce” jurisdiction, but the law does provide for two no-fault grounds:  Irreconcilable differences divorce and two-year separation where the spouses do not have minor children.

To prevail in the divorce on adultery grounds, the complainant must prove to the judge by a preponderance of the evidence that the extramarital sexual intercourse actually occurred. If discreetly perpetrated, then proving the other spouse’s acts of adultery could be difficult to do. Anticipating those challenges, the legal strategy of experienced family law attorneys will include encouraging some clients to add inappropriate marital conduct as an alternative ground for divorce. If adultery cannot be proven with direct evidence, then infidelity as inappropriate marital conduct could be proven with circumstantial evidence. Either finding would result in a final decree dissolving the marriage.

Tennessee Divorce Laws Adultery and Alimony

As part of the divorce, the economically dependent spouse may seek an award of alimony. T.C.A. § 36-5-121. Because Tennessee alimony comes in four types, the supported spouse’s needs should match the type of alimony sought. Importantly, there are numerous alimony factors the court considers, one of which is the relative fault of the parties. Because adultery squarely fits the definition of marital fault, the judge has discretion to consider infidelity in deciding alimony.

Adultery and Child Custody in Tennessee

Many parents lose sight of the impact being unfaithful and having an extramarital affair could have on their child custody cases. In many custody disputes, a parent’s priorities matters a great deal to many judges.  Dating during the marriage is still cheating in Tennessee law even though the divorce is pending.  Adultery can be seen as evidence that the children are not the parent’s number one priority.  Because so much emphasis is placed on the best interest of the child in determining custody and a parenting plan, the court and forensic child custody evaluator will examine and carefully assess evidence of adultery in the marriage and its potential impact on the child’s well-being. T.C.A. § 36-6-106.

Adultery, Dissipation, and Tennessee Divorce Laws on Division of Marital Property

Most adultery involves wasteful spending.  Wasteful spending can be dissipation and will often be an important factor in overall division of marital property.  For example, if the adulterer used marital funds to pay hotel bills and restaurant charges for the purpose of entertaining a paramour, then those wasteful expenditures reduced the marital estate without the other spouse’s consent. Consequently, the injured spouse may reclaim a portion of the marital property that was wrongly dissipated.  The process of dividing marital property requires equitable distribution in Tennessee divorce. T.C.A. § 36-4-121. Equitable refers to fairness for both parties. Unlike alimony, a spouse’s infidelity is not a factor for the court to consider when dividing the marital estate. However, the court has discretion to balance the equities if the extramarital affair provably dissipated marital assets.

How to Prove Adultery in Tennessee

Like any other grounds for divorce or factor for alimony, the burden of proof is on the person seeking to allege adultery.  Many times, it is admitted.  If not admitted, the most common evidence to prove innappropriate relationships include obtaining credit card statements, bank statements, and cell phone records, and using a private investigator.  For a more detailed discussion, see Electronic Spying in Tennessee Divorce Laws and How to Catch a Cheating Spouse.

References, Resources, and More:

About 

Memphis divorce attorney and family lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr. JD, CPA founded the Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. The firm practices divorce and family law only representing clients living in Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Eads, Shelby Co., Fayette Co. Tipton Co., and the surrounding west Tennessee area. For more information, see our Meet the Team page.

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