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November 4, 2020 Blog

Adultery in High Net Worth Divorces

adultery in high net worth divorcesPeople get divorced for all kinds of reasons, but one of the most emotionally-charged reasons is adultery. Adultery can be the sole reason for a couple to split up, but it typically only occurs when lots of other problems in the marriage have built up over a long period of time. In addition to affecting how amicable the divorce proceedings will likely be, however, adultery can be a major factor in splitting up assets, especially in high net worth divorces in North Carolina.

If you are preparing to divorce your spouse and adultery is a factor, it’s important to know that the issue can come up during the legal proceedings. Generally, a person who was unfaithful to their spouse can expect to receive less in the way of alimony (if applicable) due to marital misconduct. Obviously, that can work for you or against you, depending on the situation.

The Basics of Adultery in North Carolina Divorce Law

Adultery laws in North Carolina can be a little confusing. The accusation of adultery does not affect the divorce itself but may come up during negotiations or court proceedings, especially with regards to alimony and custody. A cheating spouse may be awarded less in the way of alimony or other assets, as determined by the courts.

In divorce proceedings, adultery is known as a type of “marital misconduct,” and under North Carolina criminal law, is a misdemeanor. With that said, criminal charges are almost never brought against someone who has cheated on their spouse. Typically, proof of adultery is only used during the divorce process to decide alimony, custody, and other distributions. These factors can be quite significant, especially in high net worth cases.

Civil Suits Against a Third Party for Adultery Damages

Although criminal charges for adultery are unlikely, there is another way for the innocent spouse to demand damages. One of the more interesting laws in North Carolina allows for charges to be filed against the cheating spouse’s lover. These claims can be known as “heart balm” torts and are no longer recognized in all but a few states, including North Carolina. They must be filed within three years of the offense and must be proven in court.

These suits are decided in civil court and are not involved in the scope of the divorce proceedings. In these types of cases, the charge is “criminal conversation” or “alienation of affection,” essentially accusing the adulterous spouse’s new partner of breaking up the marriage. Although these suits are more likely to involve a lover, they may be brought against anyone accused of influencing the cheating spouse to leave their marriage, such as a family member or friend. They cannot be filed against a business.

Torts of this type are still filed routinely in North Carolina. However, proving the case can be a challenge. Generally, adultery matters are resolved through the divorce and/or alimony process and only rarely result in an additional civil suit.

Is Adultery Grounds for Divorce?

adultery in high net worth divorcesNot right away. Adultery may very well be the reason for divorce in North Carolina, but the mandatory 12-month separation is still necessary before the divorce will be granted. This means that the divorcing spouses must live separately for at least one uninterrupted year.

When a divorce involves adultery, waiting to go through the separation process can be painful. But in a high net worth divorce, it will take some time to work out the details of the arrangement anyway. If you want to get divorced as soon as possible, changing your living arrangements is the first step.

Does Adultery Need to Be Proven?

Anyone can claim that their spouse has committed adultery; proving it is another matter. Collecting proof of adultery is more important in high net worth cases, as there will be more assets and alimony at stake. It may also affect child custody if the court feels that the cheating spouse is an unfit parent.

Generally, proof of adultery is obtained by showing letters, photographs, and other evidence that clearly points to an affair. It can be worth hiring a private investigator to gather proof of adultery if the non-cheating spouse needs that information for the divorce case or for their own peace of mind.

Proof that the adulterous spouse spent the couple’s money on their extramarital relationship can also matter. If this activity can be proven, the court might award the innocent spouse more of the collective assets due to their losses.

Forgiveness and Consent Matter

The definition of adultery is pretty broad. Under North Carolina law, it is defined as sexual conduct between two people who are not married to each other. This means that even unmarried people who are dating and living together are technically breaking the law. Obviously, these laws are rarely enforced today, but you might be worried about how they affect divorce proceedings.

In divorce proceedings, forgiveness and consent do matter. If the cheating spouse has been forgiven or the two spouses have agreed that dating is acceptable during separation, the issue shouldn’t come up as a factor in determining the divorce settlement.

Thinking of Dating? Remember, Separation Still Applies

In theory, there’s nothing inherently wrong with dating during your separation period of one year. However, your spouse might use your behavior against you in the divorce case. You will still be committing adultery if you have sex with a new partner before the divorce is final.

“Adultery” initiated during the separation period is unlikely to affect asset and custody division, but it might be a good idea to wait to date, just in case, particularly if you plan to live together. Cohabitation with a new partner during the separation period is frowned upon and could affect your case.

Your attorney should be able to give you guidance on what is appropriate during the separation period. It’s understandable to want to date during your separation, but you also need to think long term. In a high net worth divorce, especially when adultery is involved, personal conduct matters for retaining your assets.

Your behavior during the separation period might also affect your ability to effectively negotiate terms with your soon-to-be-ex. Staying amicable can be extremely challenging when the stakes are high and adultery is involved. However, it’s in everyone’s best interests to settle the case out of court whenever possible.

Adultery, Alimony, and Child Custody

Nobody likes to hear that the law is subjective, but when it comes to adultery in high net worth cases, a judge will have the final say. Judges are only human, meaning that they have different views, values, and opinions. One judge might not be too bothered by claims of adultery, while another might see an affair as a reason to deny visitation or reduce alimony. Remember, there are many different factors affecting the division of property and ongoing support; adultery represents just one of many considerations the court will make.

If you can, it’s always best to avoid taking a divorce case to court in the first place. In high net worth divorces, however, especially contentious ones involving infidelity, it’s sometimes unavoidable. Each case is different. Each couple is different.

During divorce proceedings, the best general course of action is to have as much evidence as possible to support your position and to stay courteous. Your attorney will help you map out an effective strategy. Staying level-headed can be difficult, but anger will not serve you well in the eyes of the court.

Adultery Heightens Emotions

Above all, it’s important to tread carefully when adultery is involved in a high net worth divorce in North Carolina. Infidelity can prompt a range of intense emotions on both sides that can lead to undesirable consequences. Anger and a desire for revenge, feelings of betrayal, hurt, and embarrassment can all affect a person’s actions.

No matter which side of the issue you’re on, it’s important to stay rational. Collect evidence as necessary, consider your next steps carefully, and pick your battles. Even if you’re feeling hurt, it can be advantageous to deal with the problem outside of the courtroom in a polite manner, rather than dragging it out just to hurt the other person.

Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment. You need to think about what’s important: retaining your custody and asset rights. If you’re feeling emotional and you think you’re making decisions based on your feelings, rather than logic, talk to your divorce lawyer before you take action.

Navigating the Mediation Process

It’s always better to deal with divorce negotiations amicably. It’s faster and involves less heartache. Most people who have been dealing with the fallout of adultery are anxious to get the matter resolved as quickly and painlessly as possible so they can move on with their lives.

Finding an experienced North Carolina divorce attorney is crucial in any high net worth divorce, particularly if adultery will be a factor. By speaking to a lawyer right away, you’ll be able to get advice on protecting yourself throughout the process and taking the necessary steps to protect your assets.

At Gailor Hunt, our Raleigh divorce lawyers are experienced in high net worth cases and can help you navigate the delicate matter of adultery. Call 919-367-1512 to schedule a meeting with an expert before you make any crucial decisions that could affect the outcome of your divorce!

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