Affairs are part of about 50% of all divorces, so I have over the years gotten a very behind the scenes, in depth view of what happens– mainly people avoid conflict and simply seek an escape outside their marriage or they are just too afraid to leave an unhappy situation until they have someone else waiting in the wings. I know it is easy to say just get out if things are bad, but that is easier said than done, especially if you are the economically dependent spouse.
Some adulterers feel guilty in the end, others feel angry and blame the other spouse for pushing them to the point of straying after years of feeling unwanted and abandoned. Either way, the one betrayed will have a long recovery process, and it certainly doesn’t help them to learn that for reasons of privacy, we almost never mention an affair in the final court documents. Instead, we often encourage people to think through carefully what they want to share in public pleadings. Do you really want to air your dirty laundry? Probably not, and, more importantly, what impact do you think it’s really going to have in your case? Just because someone has an affair doesn’t mean they will lose custody or get none of the assets. Divorce court is not criminal court, and it is not our job to punish adulterers, rather the goal is simply to divide the partnership’s assets and restructure family ties when children are involved, end of story.
Obviously, the ones I don’t see in my role as a divorce lawyer are the ones that choose to stay together and work things through. I don’t exactly know how they do that, but I am told by psychologists that it can be done if they sever all ties with the paramour and the parties then work together on rebuilding trust, with the one that strayed showing over time his/her continued remorse and ability to walk the line.
Reconciling after an affair is not something everyone can do, and I think it requires a level of forgiveness that some of us are simply incapable of, and of course it becomes even more challenging to do all this work while in the public eye, and so my heart does go out to all those in politics and Hollywood that so often have their personal pain splashed all over the front page of the press.
Last year on Sirius XM, I got to comment on the Petraeus scandal, and it was clear that not everyone understood why that case in particular was such a big deal. The fact is in many states adultery is still a crime, usually punishable by just a small fine, and while this may seem silly, it can be used strategically in court to plea the Fifth Amendment because we all have a Constitutional right not to incriminate ourselves. However, for all military personnel, adultery is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which views affairs as a huge security breach for intelligence officers that could become vulnerable to blackmail in order to keep the affair quiet. This is why Petraeus had to resign his position, and sadly why this affair will probably ruin his career and seriously jeopardize his 38 year marriage.
When an affair is discovered, the person betrayed has 2 choices: (1) see this as the final straw and end the marriage, or 2) work on the issues they’ve probably been ignoring for years. Neither choice is an easy one, but I wish all those facing this dilemma all the best and hope they have a good support system in place to help them through this difficult time.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.