This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.
Thanks to the media’s obsession with celebrity extramarital affairs, we’ve learned to take sides. We vilify the cheater and the third party, but at the heart of each story is our sympathy for the faithful spouse, the scorned.
We identify with this person the same way we identify with our favorite sports teams; we follow property divisions and custody battles with the same fervent energy we carry to Browns Stadium. But the rules of this game are often misunderstood. When the faithful spouse turns to the legal system to exact revenge, he or she will usually find that the infidelity itself matters little.
Like many states, Ohio is a “no fault” divorce state, meaning that infidelity matters far less to the divorce court than most clients believe. While in the past, divorces could only be granted if one proved a spouse’s wrongdoing, Ohio law now makes divorce more accessible. Under the current law, a party need only show that the couple has lived separate and apart for at least a year, or, even easier, both parties can simply agree that are they are incompatible (even if it’s the only thing they can agree on).
Many of my clients expect more spousal or child support, better property division, or a better custody arrangement as punishment to the unfaithful spouse. While the courts have leeway to consider whatever factors they deem relevant, the law makes no mention of adultery as a relevant consideration, no matter how relevant you find this new guy and his Harley or new gal and her plastic surgery. Unless marital money is used to support the paramour or a spouse is inserting his or her new beau into the children’s lives against their best interests, adultery will most likely have no effect on the settlement.
Know that if you are in the midst of a divorce, the law does not prohibit you from dating. However, consider the possible ramifications of your actions. If your joint bank account statement dips, you can expect that Facebook album of you and the new love on the beach in Oahu to become court evidence back in Ohio. If you’re the victim of infidelity, understand the limits of what the legal system can do for you. While your attorney will do everything in his or her power to get you a fair settlement, don’t expect your spouse to pay for infidelity in court.
But if cheering on the Elin Woodses and Maria Schwarzeneggers and Tareq Salahis of the world eases the blow, go right ahead.
*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.