The divorce filing mistake that can cost you thousands!
Your spouse cheated on you and now you’re filing for divorce. It’s true that infidelity is one of the top triggers for spouses to split. But when you go to file divorce paperwork, should adultery be the legal reason (grounds for divorce) you state on your forms? Turns out the answer to this question isn’t so simple, and getting your “grounds” wrong could put you on track for a costly divorce disaster.
Are you about to make a major divorce misstep? Here’s how to using your filing grounds strategically to save money and headaches in your divorce.
Adultery or Irreconcilable Differences? How Filing Grounds Influence Your Divorce
When you file for divorce, there’s a mountain of paperwork waiting for you, and buried somewhere in all the forms is a simple checklist asking you to check the legal grounds (reason) for your divorce. This list will vary by state, but most states offer several grounds to choose from, split between two basic distinctions: fault grounds for the divorce and no fault grounds.
Fault grounds indicate that one spouse is “at fault” for the divorce through harmful actions and/or behaviors they displayed during the marriage. You will see adultery at the top of the list of fault grounds, followed by other choices such as extreme cruelty and drug addiction.
No fault grounds
On the other hand, “no fault” grounds omit laying blame for the divorce; neither spouse is viewed as being at fault. The most common no fault ground is irreconcilable differences, which simply means the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This ground can be applied to essentially any divorce.
Think twice before choosing adultery as your grounds for divorce
The knee jerk reaction of someone who has been wronged by their spouse may be to choose the matching fault grounds as a “no brainer” decision. If the spouse cheated, then it follows that adultery is the legal reason for the divorce.
However, here’s how this one decision can go very wrong in your divorce:
- Filing for divorce on a fault ground sets you up for a more time-consuming and costly divorce, without any guarantee of a payoff.
Whenever fault grounds are cited, you can expect to put much more leg work into your divorce (and pay more too) because you must provide required proof to the courts to substantiate your fault claim. You may need to hire professionals such as a Private Investigator and a Forensic Accountant to track down personal and financial information. Hiring outside experts takes time and doesn’t come cheap! Plus, there is also no guarantee these paid experts will find anything of substance.
2. The law is not designed to punish cheating spouses
Adultery is morally wrong, but in the eyes of the law there is not much repercussion in most states when a spouse cheats. You won’t automatically get a larger settlement just because your spouse was unfaithful and it won’t affect child custody unless the spouse’s cheating somehow resulted in abuse/neglect/harm of the kids, which is not common. Check your state laws carefully for what consequences, if any, exist for cheaters.
3. Filing on a fault ground drives conflict.
Even if you know you’re in the right, accusing a spouse of wrongdoing in a divorce often triggers immediate conflict as the spouse becomes defensive or seeks to “strike back.” A divorce that could have progressed smoothly and quickly towards settlement may suddenly become bogged down and highly contentious as the wronged spouse digs in and declares war. Whenever conflict escalates, so does the time and money (and stress) it takes to finalize divorce terms.
What happens if you file for divorce on “no fault” grounds when a spouse cheated?
Let’s go back to the checklist that appears in the divorce paperwork. If you check a no fault ground like “irreconcilable differences” and your spouse cheated, here’s what can happen:
- You skip the time and costs of hiring private investigators and other outside experts to prove the cheating happened.
- You have a better chance of having a low conflict (aka quick and easy) divorce because there is no instant trigger for defensiveness that comes from “pointing the finger” of blame.
- You can still recoup any financial losses! This is a big one. Many spouses who are cheated worry that money their spouse spent on their paramour will go unaddressed because they filed on a no fault ground.
In situations in which a cheating spouse “willfully dissipated” (spent) marital assets on their paramour, here’s an inside secret: you don’t need to file for divorce on the grounds of adultery to recoup marital dissipation. This is a financial matter that you are able to address regardless of your grounds. Your attorney can do this through requesting certain financial documents during the discovery phase of divorce. Money spent from marital accounts in a wasteful way will be addressed by the courts. This applies to money spent during an affair or on gambling, drugs, and other illegal activities.
The bottom line: before you tick that checkbox, really do some soul searching. What kind of divorce do you want? In some extreme situations, filing for divorce on a fault ground may be appropriate. For most divorces a “no fault” ground covers everything and comes with the bonus of greasing the wheels for a speedier, lower cost divorce.
Choose wisely and you can avoid the potential for making a very serious mistake.
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