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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Can having an affair damage your business?

One of the many divorce myths which we are often faced with is that you cannot commit adultery if you are already separated. Wrong. If you have a sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex while you are still married, then it is adultery, even if so far as you are concerned your relationship with your spouse has come to an end or you have been physically separated for some time. As such, it can be reasonably cited in any divorce proceedings brought by your former spouse. Important to point out here that it must be a person of the opposite sex. A same sex affair is still is considered an improper association and not adultery.

Whatever the intricacies of the personal details, having an affair is not a wise move if you want to have a healthy, lasting relationship. But is a relationship (and associated children, extended family members etc) the only thing likely to suffer? The question posed in an interesting business magazine opinion piece recently was “can having an affair damage your business?”.

By business here I guess we are talking about earning a living. So the papers have been full of super-injunction rubbish recently, with allegations about footballers, TV presenters and former bank chief executives. So take allegations about Ryan Giggs having an affair (or affairs) then. Does this damage his profession? Is Alex Ferguson less likely to pick him in the team because of the media circus around him? Does it damage his reputation as a role model, leading to fewer shirt sales, fewer endorsements, and fewer lucrative spin-offs (he has a fitness video!)? I would suggest it does.

Bringing it down to a level closer to us mere mortals, if you own and run a business and are found to be committing adultery, is this likely to affect your business? It could do if the business is an asset that may have to be divided in the event of a divorce settlement. Then there is the possibility of reputational damage. In many cases private lives will not spill over into business so people might not be aware of any details of an adulterous affair. However, if they are, it could affect the way people perceive the business and lead to them staying away.

It is an extreme example, but as the aforementioned piece says, look at the collapse of Enron. People made assumptions about the character of Enron president Jeff Skilling based on his reputation for playing away. In his book Pipe Dreams, Greed, Ego and the Death of Enron, Robert Bryce quotes a Wall Street analyst who said of Skilling "it addresses the character of the man. This is a guy who felt he could get away with anything. You can see it in his personal life and his business life".

So while a pre-nup might go some way towards saving the financial integrity of a business if the owner is found to be having an affair and his partner wants out, the damage to reputation cannot be protected in the same way.

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor


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