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Cheating and the impact it has on divorce

Prompted by a newspaper headline our family lawyers engaged in a lively (remote) debate recently on the controversial topic of cheating. What is it? How do you know someone has cheated in a relationship? Does it matter when it comes to the process of divorce?

What is cheating in a relationship?

The discussion might surprise a few people, with lawyers saying things like:

“For my part, cheating is either adultery or it is something improper. If you are keeping something secret from your partner because you know that if your partner became aware it would cause problems for you, then you are probably engaged in something improper. Behaving in an improper way is something of a subjective thing really – for some it might be excessive flirting with lots of woman, a few emails with an old school flame or at the extreme meeting a lady of the night or a man in a hotel room for hanky panky.”

“Cheating as far as I’m concerned is anything that you feel guilty about and worry your other half may find out about and you don’t want them to know.”

At a practical level one of the lawyers said: “If you wouldn’t want to be caught doing it or you would have to explain your way out of it or pretend it didn’t happen, you shouldn’t be doing it. The lines may be moveable for different people and different situations, but we all know where they are!”

Another had an interesting viewpoint. “If you can’t tell your best friend you’re doing it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. If your partner is your best friend (as is often the case) then that’s quite self-explanatory. Deceit is far more upsetting for many than sexual infidelity.”

So, as you might have gathered from the discussion the informal conclusion we drew was that cheating does not just mean infidelity or indeed in legal terms adultery, it’s much more about trust, honesty and behaving towards your partner in the manner you would wish them to behave towards you.

Does cheating matter in a divorce?

In our work as family lawyers we do of course come across many instances of cheating which fall well below the ground of adultery. It might surprise you to know that only about ten percent of divorces are granted on the grounds of adultery, but cheating, in all it’s forms is often cited when we discuss the breakdown of a relationship with a client and can often form part of an unreasonable behaviour petition. And of course, the upset caused by the loss of trust and deceit around cheating can have a significant impact on how someone going through divorce can feel.

Cheating and the law of divorce

In legal terms however the fact your partner has cheated, whether that’s committed adultery or engaged in behaviour that you consider to be cheating, has very little impact on the divorce process itself. Either of you can apply for a divorce, although as the ‘wronged party’ only you would be able to apply on the grounds of adultery.

The fact they have cheated will have little or no effect on the other important aspects of the divorce – your financial settlement or the care of your children after your divorce. The English courts don’t take this into account when considering these matters – so whilst emotionally you may feel aggrieved you won’t be able to punish them for their misdemeanours.

As always it’s best to focus on your rights, your needs and clear instructions to your lawyer to try and make the divorce process as straight-forward as possible. Our lawyers are here to help – and when it comes to cheating, believe me they have heard it all!

Andrew Woolley
Woolley & Co Family Law Solicitors

Blog Author - Andrew Woolley

Andrew WoolleyAndrew Woolley

Andrew is the owner and managing partner of Woolley & Co. He regularly offers comments and views on a range of family law issues.

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