Emotional Affairs and Divorce
In a society with an increasing reliance on technology and social media use, it can feel easier than ever to find romantic interests in our day-to-day lives. A recent survey shows that almost one-fifth of U.S. adults are taking advantage of the booming online dating industry through apps like Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble.
While the world of online connection can be a positive way to stay in touch with friends and make new ones, social technology can also open the door to infidelity. While physical affairs may be the first things that come to mind, there’s a recent phenomenon that has received more and more attention: emotional cheating.
An emotional affair is defined as “an intense, non-sexual connection between two partners that resembles the intimacy and emotional bond in a marriage or committed relationship.”
While emotional affairs aren’t limited to online dating or virtual connections, researchers have identified certain links between emotional cheating and technology, giving rise to related terms such as remote infidelity and cyber affairs.
Emotional Cheating in Marriage
Similarly to physical affairs, emotional affairs can have innocent origins. Even well-intentioned partners can find themselves ensnared in a relationship that started as a friendship.
While some couples don’t perceive emotional affairs as harmful or “real” cheating, some experts disagree. Studies suggest that even nonphysical cheating can inflict harm in a marriage or committed relationship, as an emotional affair can lead to significant decreases in marital dissatisfaction and even end in divorce for some couples.
Signs of Emotional Infidelity
Like physical affairs, emotional affairs can be deceptive and devastating. Sometimes, a spouse may be unaware that they’re involved in an emotional affair to begin with.
How can you tell when a line is crossed outside of your marriage? Reflect on these questions to determine whether or not you’re engaged in an emotional affair:
- Do you make an effort to hide the relationship from your spouse?
- Do you become dismissive or defensive when your spouse brings up the other relationship?
- Do you catch yourself lying to your partner to avoid discussing the other relationship?
- Are you uncomfortable at the idea of your spouse reading communications between you and the other person?
- Do you think about the other person more than your spouse?
- Do you vent or seek advice from the other person instead of your spouse?
- Do you compare your spouse to the other person at your spouse’s expense?
As most married couples know, relationships are a two-way street. Below are common signs that your spouse may be involved, unknowingly or otherwise, in an emotional affair:
- They seem emotionally detached or distant.
- They spend more time outside the house than at home.
- They seem distracted or defensive.
- They seem protective of their electronics.
- They under-share or overshare.
- They talk about the other person frequently.
- They made sudden changes to their appearance.
How Does Adultery Affect Divorce in Washington State?
It depends. Depending on the circumstances, adultery can play a role during divorce proceedings in Washington.
Washington is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that couples aren't required to provide an acceptable reason ("grounds") for the dissolution of their marriage; rather, a spouse can seek a divorce with or without the other spouse's permission based on an "irretrievable breakdown" in the relationship. Consequently, there's no need for either spouse to assign blame for the sake of obtaining a divorce.
Marital Infidelity & Property Division
In some instances, infidelity may affect asset distribution and property division in a Washington divorce. To better understand how infidelity can affect the distribution of assets in court, we must first understand the distinction between community property states and equitable distribution states.
What Is a Community Property State?
As a community property state, Washington seeks to divide a couple’s assets as equally as possible by classifying property as:
- Community property. Also known as marital property, community property includes assets that are jointly owned by both spouses, meaning that it was acquired during the marriage.
- Separately owned property. This refers to property that is individually owned by one spouse, meaning it was acquired prior to the marriage.
Are Assets Split 50/50 in a Washington Divorce?
While a 50/50 split is never a guarantee, you’re more likely to see a roughly even split in a community property state than in an equitable distribution state, in which the courts can take any number of extenuating circumstances into account.
There is no promise that infidelity will influence property division in Washington or other community property states. It depends on the judge who facilitates the split and other unique circumstances of the divorce. Ultimately, it’s up to the court to decide whether or not adultery will impact asset distribution—and if so, how great that impact will be.
If you were the partner who was cheated on, you may be able to request an unequal division that is more advantageous to you, although there is no guarantee your request will be granted by the court. Because Washington is a no-fault divorce state, adultery can lack legal weight in divorce proceedings.
Generally, it’s rare for community property states to facilitate a disproportionate split on the grounds of alleged infidelity. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. For example, the court may consider taking adultery into account if the infidelity caused the other spouse financial harm. This may result in the wronged spouse being awarded a greater share of assets than the adulterer.
How Can Infidelity Affect Child Custody?
If a couple shares children together, infidelity may influence the judge’s decision when it comes time to determine child support, child custody arrangements, parenting plans, and visitation schedules.
While infidelity alone is unlikely to result in a spouse being declared an unfit parent, cheating can influence other factors that affect child custody decisions. For example, a coparent may find themselves at a disadvantage if their affair:
- Limited their involvement with their children;
- Damaged their relationship with their child;
- Jeopardized the safety or wellbeing of their children;
- Impeded their parenting abilities;
- Involved substance abuse or other illicit acts; and/or
- Otherwise harmed their child’s physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing.
Rest assured that the judge will always decide child custody arrangements by determining what is in the best interests of the child, not the parents.
How Adultery Affects Alimony
Washington divorce laws specifically prohibit adultery from influencing the court’s decision regarding alimony (also known as spousal support) during divorce proceedings. No-fault divorce states view infidelity as “marital misconduct” that doesn’t affect a couple’s ability to divorce.
However, similarly to how adultery can impact property division, evidence of cheating in a marriage can influence the judge’s decision about alimony if the adulterer’s decision caused the other spouse financial or economic harm.
For example, if the cheating spouse lavished a secret lover with expensive gifts over the span of a few years, the court may see fit to compensate the non-offending spouse by ordering the other to pay more in alimony.
Does Emotional Infidelity Count as Adultery in Court?
While Washington State does not recognize emotional cheating as a legal form of adultery, this doesn’t mean that an emotional affair won’t impact your divorce. As denoted above, various forms of marital conduct—physical and nonphysical acts alike—can play a role in divorce proceedings if the misconduct:
- Resulted in financial or economic harm to the other spouse;
- Involved drug or substance abuse;
- Led to spousal abuse or domestic violence; and/or
- Negatively impacted the couple’s children.
Moreover, for some couples, emotional cheating can open the door to physical affairs. In this case, providing evidence of infidelity can work in the non-offending spouse’s favor, as proving that they were financially harmed as a direct result of the offending spouse’s misconduct can lead to a more advantageous share of assets and alimony.
Proving Infidelity in a Divorce
While providing evidence of adultery isn’t required in a Washington divorce, doing so isn’t entirely worthless. In some circumstances, showing evidence of the offending spouse’s affair can benefit you in the divorce proceedings.
Because adultery doesn’t automatically impact a Washington divorce, evidence of a physical affair is only useful if it proves at least one of the following: 1) that the non-offending spouse suffered economic or financial harm, and/or 2) the affair resulted in harm to a child’s health or wellbeing.
For example, sufficient evidence might include:
- Receipts of purchases made for the affair. This may include proof of gifts or expensive dinners.
- Bank statements that reveal travel and activity within the affair. This can demonstrate that the offending spouse routinely reserved hotel rooms or booked expensive vacations with the other person.
- Eyewitness accounts. This may include testimonies from friends, family, coworkers, or acquaintances who witnessed the offending spouse’s affair in action.
- Text messages, emails, and phone records. Evidence of communications between the offending spouse and the other partner can be used to prove financial damage and other potential negative impacts on the family that are relevant to the divorce.
- Social media activity. Evidence of social media activity can offer sufficient proof of financial harm, such as a Facebook message that mentions the offending spouse’s expenses, plans, and/or intentions in the affair.
Options for Couples in Emotional Affairs
Sadly, adultery is one of the most common causes of divorce. While the topic of physical affairs is a tale as old as time, technological advances have highlighted a new issue: the increasing prevalence of emotional cheating via dating apps, social media accounts, and other forms of cyber activity.
While smartphones and other updated technology can offer us a false sense of privacy and security, the uptick in modern-day “emotional cheating” begs the question: Are our private lives as secure as they seem?
It can be hard to identify silver linings in any affair. Although emotional cheating can wreak havoc on any relationship, there are still benefits to recognizing and addressing infidelity in marriage: it can offer us a better idea of what we want, what we need, and most importantly, what we deserve in our relationships.
Both physical and emotional cheating can leave a marriage beyond repair. Getting a divorce is a personal decision that can be difficult for couples to make, but the end result often makes the emotional and financial hardships more than worth it.
Experienced Divorce Representation
If you and your spouse recently decided to dissolve your marriage following an affair, you’re not alone. No one deserves to feel stuck in a partnership that is unhealthy, toxic, or loveless. Undergoing a divorce can be tiring and painful, but for many divorcees, it’s also the beginning of a new chapter and a deserved fresh start.
McKinley Irvin's divorce attorneys can help protect what you value most. Call 206-397-0399 or contact us online to discuss your case with an experienced divorce lawyer.