Every time we turn around, a high-profile couple is splitting up as a result of cheating accusations (ahem, Tiger Woods and Jesse James), yet there are reports that infidelity rates are actually dropping. Although the official stats speak to couples staying together because of the economy—divorce is expensive—Bernard Clair, a prominent Manhattan divorce lawyer, hasn’t noticed a decrease in cheating on the ground floor. This issue is difficult and emotional, but, as much as we hope that you never experience it firsthand, we want you to go in with open eyes. So, we ask, how much can an affair cost a person?
The Price Of Divorce
If cheating breaks up a marriage, both parties will pay—emotionally and economically. It is impossible to calculate how much you’ll spend on a divorce, explains Marlene Eskind Moses, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. An uncontested divorce could put you out less than $1,000, whereas a case that goes on for years can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; Clair doesn’t think it’s possible to get out of a sticky custody case for less than $75,000, and, in some urban areas, more like double that. Divorces get especially complicated when there are issues of custody, debt allocation, retirement funds, health and life insurance, or a huge divergence in income opportunities and assets. Costs include legal fees, hiring financial experts to assess the value of assets, court costs, and more. Clair often tells his clients that they’re “throwing away [their] children’s college fund, so think twice.”
Cheating Can Unofficially Impact The Outcome Of A Divorce
Eskind Moses says that fear or remorse over an indiscretion (such as your spouse’s worry that he might expose his lover publicly) can be a motivator for a better settlement. But, this often has a limited impact on the courtroom: “While the marriage is falling apart, you can get a lot further with the guilt that the spouses are feeling than you can by turning it into a big court battle, because by the time they get to court they don’t feel guilty anymore.”
Courts Won’t Give You The Short End Of The Settlement For Cheating
Clair notes that, nowadays, courtrooms place a much smaller emphasis on fidelity when figuring out how the chips will fall: “Tiger and Elin are great media fodder, but in the courtroom… infidelity is meaningless.” Now that all states have some sort of no-fault option, a couple doesn’t have to air its dirty laundry to be granted a legal end to the marriage, even if cheating precipitates the breakup. Infidelity is only relevant when one of the people uses marital funds to support a boyfriend or girlfriend (your husband paid for his girlfriend’s plastic surgery, you got a credit card in your boyfriend’s name). As Clair explains it, the only thing that really matters in a divorce settlement is money; if you’re spending joint funds on your extramarital lover, the infidelity becomes relevant not because there is broken vow or because it’s sexy and salacious, “but because it has become economical.”
Your Breakup Is A Business Transaction
What is important, Eskind Moses says, is to remember that divorce “is a business transaction, so the better a couple can work together, the less drain on the finances.” Exploring a prenuptial agreement or having frank conversations about finances before getting married, investigating next steps if you’re thinking about leaving a spouse, taking action immediately if your partner leaves you, and getting excellent legal and financial advice are all ways to protect yourself now and for the future.