Adultery and Divorce Laws in California

By Travis Gray, J.D.

Adultery and Divorce Laws in California

By Travis Gray, J.D.

While the divorce laws of some states can be punishing for a cheating spouse, that isn't the case in the State of California. California is a no-fault divorce state, which means it isn't necessary to prove that you have an excellent reason to end your marriage. That said, adultery can still have consequences on the outcomes of spousal support and custody decisions as well as the division of your assets.

Woman solemnly resting her chin on her hand as a man uses his phone behind her

Grounds for Divorce in California

In some states, such as Louisiana, you must establish that the breakdown of your marriage is the fault of the other spouse in order to obtain a divorce. But in California, you are not required to prove fault in order to terminate a marriage.

Because it is a no-fault state, you only need to meet one of the two common grounds for divorce under California law:

  • Insanity
  • Irreconcilable differences

Regardless of the grounds cited for the divorce, it is unnecessary to have your spouse's agreement before you file for divorce.

How Adultery Affects Divorce in California

The judge is not supposed to consider anything other than the grounds mentioned above when determining if a divorce is warranted. However, just because adultery isn't taken into account in deciding whether a divorce will be granted doesn't mean it won't be an issue during the proceedings. That is because the judge in your case is allowed to consider the financial impact infidelity had on the other spouse.

Property Distribution

In California, nearly all property acquired during the marriage is considered community property. In other words, all property of the marriage is owned equally by the spouses. The only exceptions are gifts or inheritance received by a spouse.

However, if one spouse spends marital assets on an affair, the court can require that person to reimburse their spouse for what they spent on their paramour. This reimbursement can come from the property divided during the divorce, which could lead to the wronged spouse winding up with the bulk of the marital property.

Spousal Support

When it comes to spousal support, California courts do not order alimony due to the presence of infidelity during the marriage. Alimony decisions cannot be punitive in nature so it would be inappropriate for the court to punish a spouse for infidelity by order monthly support payments.

It is possible, though, for a spouse's relationship during separation but prior to the final divorce decree to affect the amount of support ordered. If a spouse is in a relationship during the separation and begins cohabitating with that person, the other spouse can use that living situation as grounds for lowering the necessary amount of spousal support.

Custody

Adultery has a limited effect on custody issues because the court ultimately makes custody decisions based on what is in the best interest of the child. If the court believes a parent is able to provide a healthy relationship and a safe home environment for the child, the issue of adultery has little bearing on the decision. However, if dangerous or inappropriate behavior stemmed from the infidelity, that could lead alter the court's decision.

As you can see, California's status as a no-fault divorce state doesn't mean adultery can't make your divorce more difficult. Understanding how adultery can affect your divorce gives you an advantage when it comes time for the judge to make decisions regarding support, custody, and property distribution.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.