Lawyers love words. We use them a lot, in both English and Latin. Our “briefs” are anything but, and legal paper is notorious for being several inches longer than letter-sized paper because, well, we like words. Here’s an epigram (a sharp saying) you may not expect: “To err is human; to forgive, humane.” When forgiving a spouse some egregious act in a Virginia marriage, be careful of how far your forgiveness extends.
Law Versus Woman: Is Adultery Illegal in Virginia?
Suppose your wife has an affair and you find out. Her act undermines the sanctity of your Virginia marriage, but as our men’s divorce lawyers will tell you, it also violates Virginia law. If you find out and do nothing, you give up a right enshrined in Virginia law. (The same goes for you, if you commit adultery and she finds out and lets it slide).
We need to untangle this single act for its multiple legal violations:
- Against Code of Virginia §18.2-365, your wife (or you) has sex with someone outside your marriage. The exact wording is ominous: “Any person, being married, who voluntarily shall have sexual intercourse with any person not his or her spouse shall be guilty of adultery, punishable as a Class 4 misdemeanor.”
- A Class 4 misdemeanor under Code of Virginia §18.2-11 is punishable by a fine of up to $250
- Adultery is one of the fault grounds for divorce under Code of Virginia §20-91
The fine itself may not sound like much of a punishment, but it does lead to your wife having a criminal record, ruining your marriage, and unsettling both your futures.
Law Versus Forgiveness: Should You Forgive Adultery?
Some guys, in a desperate effort to patch together a marriage constructed of a fabric of lies and betrayal, may choose to overlook the adultery. You can give yourself any excuse you want:
- For the good of your children
- For the forgiveness of sin
- Because you want an open marriage
- To have a power hold over her
- For freedom to commit adultery, too
Your motives for forgiveness can be noble or crass. It does not matter in the eyes of Virginia law, because if you let her “get away with it,” you can no longer use her adultery as a reason for a divorce. Code of Virginia §20-94 is explicit:
“When the suit is for divorce for adultery, sodomy, or buggery, the divorce shall not be granted, if it appear that the parties voluntarily cohabited after the knowledge of the fact of adultery, sodomy or buggery, or that it occurred more than five years before the institution of the suit, or that it was committed by the procurement or connivance of the party alleging such act.”
Notice three conditions in the one law:
- Forgiveness removes adultery (or sodomy or buggery) as a fault ground for divorce
- Adultery committed five years or more before you filed for divorce removes it as a fault ground
- If you encourage her to commit adultery, you remove it as a fault ground
For purposes of this particular piece, we are only dealing with you forgiving her for her act. We are not going to deal with sodomy, buggery or you being a procurer to set up your wife with some anonymous dude from a biker bar so you could get your jollies watching. And please excuse us, we have to go wash our hands for an hour now.
You Versus Wife: Your Divorce Can Become No-fault
Once you sanction the adultery, you cannot then claim some sort of moral high ground by later saying you were deeply wounded by her betrayal. You can seek marital counseling, move out for a few weeks, or make her waking moments a living hell; if you stick with her, you cannot divorce her because of the adultery.
We as divorce attorneys are not condoning either separation or forgiveness; only you two can decide how best to move forward in the face of adultery. We are simply saying you can no longer find her at fault, and instead will have to seek a no-fault divorce through a separation.
Despite contrary modern portrayals in song, word, and film, adultery is still a serious, emotional wound to two people. You are entitled to feel angry and betrayed; she is entitled to feel embarrassed or misunderstood. If you two choose to patch things up, you are entitled to move forward like two swans with clipped wings — still a pair, still mated for life, but permanently damaged by the encounter.
If the adultery was a one-off, you may well heal and move on; 31 percent of marriages survive adultery today, according to Statistic Brain. If the adultery is ongoing (Statistic Brain says the average affair is two years in length), deeper problems exist.
A Heavy Burden
How you find out about the adultery matters, too. She could give a tearful confession in the dead of night shared only between you two, in which case you may never prove adultery to the court’s satisfaction because it is hearsay (she could deny your version of events).
You and your buddies may have stumbled upon her in the very act, in which case you will have an easy (if humiliating) time proving it if your friends provide affidavits or testimony. You may hire a private detective for photographic, circumstantial evidence. Proving adultery in a Virginia court is often a heavy burden.
Hire a Divorce Lawyer for Men Only
Whether you choose to forgive and later pursue a no-fault divorce, or you choose to divorce her for adultery, you need the services of The Firm for Men. Please give us a call at 757-383-9184 to speak with an attorney experienced in all types of divorce. Our introductory epigram is based on Alexander Pope’s saying, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Remember, though, another version: “To err is human; to get even, divine.” The Firm For Men represents men exclusively in family law matters, and is proud to serve all of Hampton Roads and beyond, from Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake to Hampton, Newport News, and Yorktown. Reach out today for your family law consultation.