Does Adultery Affect Alimony in Wisconsin?

Adultery doesn't affect alimony, also known as “spousal maintenance”, in Wisconsin because it's a no-fault divorce state, meaning spouses do not need to include a reason or prove fault when they file for divorce. In fact, divorce courts in Wisconsin do not consider fault – including affairs or cheating – when dividing assets or determining alimony.

When Does Adultery Matter in a Divorce?

While it is not part of determining division of property or alimony, adultery may be considered in decisions about custody. However, this has more to do with the best interests of the child (or children) – and how the extra-marital relationship impacts the child(ren) – than whether either spouse is cheating.

Another consideration for how cheating might affect alimony is if the living situations of either spouse changes as a result of moving in with a new partner. Because the purpose of alimony is to alleviate financial stress, a new relationship that improves a financial situation may be grounds for a change in alimony payments.

Adultery is technically a class I felony in Wisconsin. This means that, while you can't sue a spouse – in a civil court – for cheating, they could theoretically be brought up on criminal charges. However, the law that makes adultery illegal in Wisconsin is an old one and very rarely enforced. More to the point, it wouldn't make a difference in a divorce proceeding.

What is Considered for Alimony

In Wisconsin, alimony is awarded as a recognition that one spouse generally has more need than another after a divorce. While married, spouses willingly share resources so the need is not as great. Once a divorce is final, the “needy” spouse will no longer have the benefit of shared resources without the help of an alimony payment.

The guidelines for determining alimony are broad and include such considerations as

  • Length of marriage
  • Age and health of both spouses
  • Division of property
  • Education of both spouses, at the time of marriage and at the time of divorce
  • Earning capacity of the spouse seeking spousal maintenance
  • Whether the spouse seeking maintenance can become self-supporting to the standard of living they had during the marriage and, if so, how long that would take

There are more situations a judge may consider, including the vaguely worded “such factors as the court may determine to be relevant.” However, the purpose of alimony is not to punish a spouse for behavior, but rather to keep a spouse from becoming destitute because of the divorce. Thus, adultery is not considered in alimony decisions.

References: “Best Interests” of a Child

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