Full Overview Of Adultery

Adultery is a significant issue in the context of marriage and divorce, carrying profound legal, emotional, and social implications. In the UK, adultery can be a ground for divorce and can influence the decisions made during divorce proceedings, particularly regarding financial settlements and child custody. This comprehensive overview by DLS Solicitors aims to provide a detailed understanding of adultery from a legal perspective, including its definition, legal ramifications, evidence requirements, and practical considerations for those affected.

What is Adultery?

Adultery, in legal terms, refers to voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone who is not their spouse. It is important to note that, under UK law, adultery specifically involves heterosexual intercourse; therefore, same-sex relationships do not constitute adultery but may be considered unreasonable behaviour.

Key Characteristics of Adultery

  1. Voluntary Act: Adultery must be voluntary; forced or coerced sexual acts do not constitute adultery.
  2. Sexual Intercourse: The act must involve sexual intercourse; other forms of infidelity, such as kissing or emotional affairs, do not legally qualify as adultery.
  3. Heterosexual Context: Under current UK law, adultery applies only to sexual intercourse between members of the opposite sex.

Adultery as Grounds for Divorce

In England and Wales, adultery is one of the five legally recognised grounds for divorce under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. To file for divorce on the grounds of adultery, the petitioner must prove that the respondent has committed adultery and that they find it intolerable to live with them.

Proving Adultery

Proving adultery in court can be challenging due to the requirement of evidence. Direct evidence of adultery is rare, and courts often rely on circumstantial evidence or admissions of guilt by the adulterous spouse.

  1. Confession: A straightforward way to prove adultery is through a confession from the respondent.
  2. Circumstantial Evidence: This can include evidence of opportunity and inclination, such as hotel receipts, text messages, or witness testimonies.
  3. Admission in Correspondence: If the respondent admits to the adultery in correspondence, this can be used as evidence.

Time Limits

A crucial aspect of filing for divorce on the grounds of adultery is the time limit. The petitioner must file for divorce within six months of becoming aware of the adultery. If they continue to live with the respondent for more than six months after discovering the adultery, they cannot use it as a grounds for divorce.

Unreasonable Behaviour

If proving adultery is difficult, or if the petitioner has continued to live with the respondent for more than six months after discovering the adultery, they may opt to file for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. This broader ground can encompass various forms of misconduct, including infidelity, that do not meet the strict definition of adultery.

Impact of Adultery on Divorce Proceedings

Financial Settlements

Adultery itself does not directly impact the financial settlements in divorce proceedings. The court’s primary concern is achieving a fair and equitable division of assets, regardless of the grounds for divorce. However, the emotional and psychological effects of adultery may influence negotiations and the willingness of parties to reach amicable agreements.

Child Custody and Arrangements

The court’s paramount concern in matters of child custody and arrangements is the child’s best interests. Adultery, in isolation, does not typically affect custody decisions unless it directly impacts the welfare of the children. For instance, if the adulterous relationship exposes the children to harm or instability, it may be considered in custody determinations.

Emotional and Psychological Effects

The emotional and psychological impact of adultery on the non-adulterous spouse and children can be profound. Feelings of betrayal, anger, and sadness are common, and these emotions can complicate divorce proceedings and negotiations.

Practical Considerations for Affected Parties

Legal Advice and Representation

Seeking legal advice and representation is crucial for anyone considering filing for divorce on the grounds of adultery. A solicitor can provide guidance on the best course of action, help gather necessary evidence, and ensure that the legal process is followed correctly.

Evidence Gathering

Gathering evidence of adultery can be challenging but is necessary to prove the grounds for divorce. It is essential to do this legally and ethically, avoiding any actions that could constitute harassment or invasion of privacy.

Emotional Support

Dealing with the aftermath of adultery can be emotionally taxing. Seeking emotional support from friends, family, or professional counsellors can help individuals cope with the stress and emotions involved.

Communication and Mediation

Effective communication and mediation can help manage divorce’s emotional and practical aspects. Mediation can facilitate amicable settlements and help both parties reach agreements on financial matters and child arrangements without prolonged litigation.

Case Studies

Proving Adultery

Jane discovered that her husband, Mark, had been having an affair. She found text messages and emails that confirmed the relationship. Jane decided to file for divorce on the grounds of adultery. With the help of her solicitor, she gathered the evidence and presented it in court. Mark admitted to the affair in his response to the petition, making it easier for Jane to proceed with the divorce.

Adultery and Child Custody

John and Sarah were going through a divorce. John had committed adultery, and Sarah was concerned about the impact on their children. During custody hearings, it was revealed that John’s new partner had a criminal record for domestic violence. The court considered this information and decided that the children’s primary residence should be with Sarah, with supervised visitation for John, to ensure the children’s safety and well-being.

Emotional Support and Mediation

Emily discovered her husband, Paul, had been unfaithful. Devastated, she sought both legal advice and emotional support from a counsellor. Emily and Paul agreed to mediation to settle their financial arrangements and child custody amicably. The mediator helped them communicate effectively, and they reached a fair settlement without going to court, minimising stress and conflict for their children.

Legal Boundaries in Evidence Gathering

When gathering evidence of adultery, it is vital to stay within legal boundaries. Invasion of privacy, hacking into personal accounts, or harassment can have legal repercussions and may negatively impact the case.

Confidentiality and Discretion

Maintaining confidentiality and discretion during divorce proceedings is essential, especially when adultery is involved. Legal professionals must ensure that sensitive information is handled appropriately to protect the privacy and dignity of all parties.

Ethical Representation

Solicitors must provide ethical representation, offer honest advice, and pursue the best interests of their clients while respecting the legal process and the rights of the opposing party.

The Role of Solicitors in Adultery Cases

Providing Expert Advice

Solicitors play a crucial role in providing expert advice on the legal implications of adultery and the best strategies for proceeding with a divorce. This includes advising on evidence requirements, potential outcomes, and the impact on financial and child custody arrangements.

Representing Clients in Court

If the case proceeds to court, solicitors represent their clients, presenting evidence, making legal arguments, and advocating for their client’s interests. This representation is vital in ensuring that the client’s case is effectively communicated and that their rights are protected.

Facilitating Mediation and Settlement

Solicitors can facilitate mediation and settlement discussions, helping parties reach amicable agreements without the need for contentious court proceedings. This approach can be particularly beneficial in preserving relationships and minimising the emotional toll on all involved.

Ensuring Legal Compliance

Throughout the process, solicitors ensure that all actions comply with legal standards and court procedures. This includes filing necessary documents on time, adhering to court rules, and ensuring evidence is gathered and presented legally.

Moving Forward After Adultery

Rebuilding Life and Relationships

Moving forward after adultery involves rebuilding one’s life and relationships. This process can be challenging but is essential for emotional healing and personal growth. Seeking counselling or therapy can provide valuable support during this time.

Co-Parenting and Child Welfare

For parents, focusing on co-parenting and the welfare of the children is crucial. Despite the personal hurt, maintaining a cooperative and supportive parenting relationship is in the best interests of the children.

Financial Planning

Post-divorce financial planning is essential for ensuring long-term stability. This includes reassessing financial goals, managing settlements wisely, and possibly seeking the advice of a financial planner.

Personal Growth and Self-Care

Investing in personal growth and self-care can help individuals move forward positively. Engaging in activities that promote well-being, setting new personal goals, and building a support network are important steps in the healing process.


Adultery is a complex issue with significant legal, emotional, and social implications. Understanding the legal framework, evidence requirements, and practical considerations is essential for anyone affected by adultery.

At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to providing expert guidance and support to individuals navigating the challenges of adultery and divorce.

By seeking legal advice, gathering evidence ethically, and focusing on effective communication and mediation, individuals can manage the impact of adultery on their lives and achieve fair and favourable outcomes. Emotional support and personal growth are also critical components of moving forward after adultery, helping individuals rebuild their lives and relationships.

At DLS Solicitors, our experienced team is here to assist you through every step of the process, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you receive the support you need to navigate the complexities of adultery and divorce. If you need assistance or advice, please do not hesitate to contact us for professional, compassionate, and comprehensive legal support.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 10th July 2024.

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