Some people are just asking to get caught– they leave their phones unlocked, emails open on a shared computer, don’t delete their text or voice messages, use a credit card for expenses that should have been paid for in cash, or fail to create an iron-clad alibi and cover their tracks while carrying on an affair.  While some may just be stupid or sloppy, I actually think a fair amount subconsciously want to get caught in order to finally force a difficult conversation– either the person betrayed will end the relationship or s/he will acknowledge there are issues the couple needs to work through, but either way the status quo will inevitably have to change.

Delving into affairs is an integral part of my job, where cheating is a factor in about 50% of all divorces I handle. Half the time, I represent the cheater, the other half the time my client is the one betrayed.  The stories no longer shock me, but what really amazes me is how the opportunities for a tryst have grown exponentially over the past two decades thanks to modern technology, dating apps and social media.  The temptation for someone that is unhappy at home to find an escape from that reality is now literally everywhere and anywhere.

Technology of course is a double-edge sword, because it’s also made it substantially easier to get busted.  Back in the days when I was a baby lawyer, most clients had to hire a private investigator to tail their spouse once they began to observe subtle changes in their behaviors and patterns.  This used to be very expensive, until tiny and cheap GPS tracking devices came into existence, and now anyone can be their own detective by tracking their partner on a personal device or with an Apple Air Tag for under $30.

It is rarely one dead give-away that exposes an affair, but rather a culmination of events that force the betrayed party to face the truth, as much as they would like to deny it.  And this is when things get really interesting because while some adulterers feel incredibly guilty and remorseful, others actually become quite belligerent and blame the other spouse for pushing them to the point of straying after years of feeling unwanted and abandoned.  One thing is for certain, there is no “get out of jail free” card here.

Those that choose to stay together will have to work hard with a professional counselor to help rebuild trust, if that is even possible.  Obviously the first big step towards that is to cut off all contact with the paramour.  Meanwhile the ones that choose to divorce will have to completely unravel their financial partnership together and work out a custody schedule if they have minor children.   And let’s be super clear, just because someone had an affair doesn’t mean they will lose custody or get none of the marital assets.  Divorce court is not criminal court, and rather than punish adulterers, the function is simply to divide the partnership’s assets and restructure family ties when children are involved, end of story.

Thankfully, most of my clients choose not to air their dirty laundry in court, which is an expensive and lengthy process, and instead we work out private settlements that keep the details of their divorce confidential.  This is particularly important for certain high-profile individuals or my clients in the military or with security clearance.  For 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 years ago General Petraeus had to resign his position after his affair was discovered.

Ultimately, my job is to suspend all judgment and focus on damage control.  In that vein, I will say that as painful as the discovery of an affair might be, it also provides an incredible moment to start being honest, particularly with yourself– what do you really want and need in life? What is it that you believe you deserve in a romantic partnership?  Obviously, the closer you get to achieving that reality, the less likely you will be to settle for crumbs.  Life is too short to accept someone’s half-ass effort at simply maintaining a comfortable existence.  Surely as parents we would want more than that for our own children, and as a result shouldn’t we strive for the same ourselves?

Love stories are rarely simple and uncomplicated, especially in the 21st century.  My sincere hope is that in the end you hold out for that love that sets your heart on fire.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.