Does an Affair Matter in a Divorce in Tennessee?

By Wayne Thomas

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An affair can be devastating to a marriage. Tennessee allows you obtain a divorce from your spouse based solely on adultery. Understanding how an affair can affect the stages of the divorce process, as well as what defenses may be raised will help you better prepare for a divorce of this type in Tennessee.

Grounds for Divorce

Tennessee recognizes adultery as a ground for divorce. This means that a judge can dissolve a marriage based solely that the spouse cheated. However, the spouse filing for divorce must prove that the infidelity actually occurred, which requires more than allegations. Even if the spouse admits to infidelity, the court needs to hear the evidence before the court can grant the divorce.

Property Division

The fact that you can establish that your spouse was unfaithful does not mean, however, that his affair will affect property division. Tennessee is an equitable distribution state, which means that the court will distribute the martial assets fairly, although not necessarily in a 50-50 distribution. The court looks at each party's needs and contributions to the marriage, but state law prevents a judge from taking into account marital fault, including adultery, in dividing property. If the unfaithful spouse used marital funds, for example, to support the affair, however, the court can use the amount wrongly appropriated to lesson that spouse’s share of the marital property.

Spousal Support

Although proving that an affair occurred may not affect property division, courts can consider infidelity when they determine spousal support -- also known as alimony. The purpose of spousal support is to ensure that a spouse enjoys the same standard of living that she had during the marriage. The court looks at each spouse’s specific needs and each spouse’s ability to earn a living. If it can be proven to the court that the faithful spouse was so devastated by the affair that she is unable to work because of the affair, this might justify a higher spousal support award for her. It is important to understand, however, that the court will not use alimony to punish the unfaithful spouse for the affair.

A Spouse's Defenses

The fact that a spouse has had an affair does not automatically mean that the other spouse can use the affair as a basis for a divorce. Instead, Tennessee recognizes three defenses that the unfaithful spouse can raise in his defense. The first is recrimination, which means that if both spouses cheated, neither spouse can file for divorce on the grounds of adultery. The second is condonation, which means that the wronged spouse has forgiven his spouse for the affair and both parties have reconciled. Years later, if the once-wronged spouse files for divorce based on that affair, the court can dismiss the complaint. The final defense is connivance, which means that the faithful spouse played a role in encouraging the other spouse to cheat.