Do Divorce Papers Reflect Adultery as the Reason?

By Beverly Bird

If a spouse has committed adultery, no state forces the wronged partner to include this information in his complaint or petition for divorce. As of 2010, all 50 states recognize no-fault grounds, so spouses don’t have to prove any marital misconduct to get a divorce. Some “pure” no-fault states don't recognize any fault grounds at all, so you don’t have the option of alleging that your spouse was unfaithful. However, in other jurisdictions, if you want to file on adultery grounds, the details will appear in at least some of your divorce papers.

Complaint for Divorce

When you file a complaint or petition for divorce on fault grounds, you must usually itemize examples of your spouse’s wrongdoing. If you file for adultery, you must state the name of the person with whom your spouse committed the acts, and when and where they occurred. In some states, you can say that you don’t know this information, but eventually, you will have to prove in court that the adultery occurred.

Counterclaim for Divorce

Your spouse has a right to respond to your divorce petition or complaint. She can file a simple answer, admitting or denying your allegations, or she can file a counterclaim, which is her own version of a divorce complaint. Some states call this document a cross-complaint. If you’re the partner guilty of infidelity and you file for divorce on no-fault grounds or on other fault grounds, your spouse may file a counterclaim for divorce in which she accuses you of adultery. A counterclaim would also include itemized details of the infidelity, which would become part of the court record.

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Notice to Co-Respondent

When either a divorce complaint or a counterclaim includes an allegation of adultery, many states require the filing of a third document with the court. This is a “notice to co-respondent” and it must be served on the individual with whom a spouse has committed adultery, along with a copy of the complaint or counterclaim. This document also contains reference to the adultery grounds, although it generally does not go into the same detail that a complaint or counterclaim does.

Judgment of Divorce

In most states, the judgment or decree of divorce is the only document that does not specify the exact grounds on which a court granted the divorce. It is also usually the only document you’ll ever have to show anyone to confirm your divorce is final or to substantiate its terms, such as if you want to include spousal support you’re receiving as part of your income when you apply for a loan. The first paragraph of a decree or judgment usually just states that the court is satisfied that you proved your cause of action, or your grounds for divorce, without naming what they were.

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Types of Pleadings in a Divorce


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Can You Just Not Do Anything in a Divorce if You Are the Respondent?

Your spouse is required to serve you with divorce papers after she files for divorce, including her divorce petition, or complaint, and a summons. Generally, the summons lists deadlines for you to respond to the petition or provides scheduling information for your initial appearance in court. If you choose to ignore the summons, the court still may enter a judgment against you.

Can Only One Party File in a No-Fault Divorce?

If spouses always had to file for divorce together, it would most likely drop the divorce rate to something close to zero. Your spouse's cooperation is not required when you file, even if you choose not to cite fault grounds in your divorce complaint or petition. A no-fault divorce is not the same as an uncontested divorce, in which spouses reach an agreement regarding all issues. In this case, they can file a petition together in many states.

Can You Be Charged With Adultery After You File for Divorce?

If you or your spouse has filed for divorce and you're just counting down the days until the whole ordeal is behind you, keep in mind that you're not officially free until the ink dries on your judgment or decree. Until the court actually issues an order ending your marriage, you're still married. If you begin a romantic relationship with anyone other than your spouse during this time, it's adultery.

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