Why Adultery Can Matter In Tennessee Divorce
On August 23rd 2022 the Memphis-Shelby County Schools Superintendent, Mr. Joris Ray, resigned from his post after formally reaching a separation agreement with the school board. Mr. Ray was placed under investigation earlier this year when allegations made by his wife in divorce proceedings suggested that Mr. Ray may have abused his power and violated district policies by entering into multiple adulterous affairs with district employees. Mr. Ray continues to deny violating any policy but has agreed to resign as the investigation has “become distracting to and constraining for the district.” As part of the agreement Mr. Ray will receive 18 months salary and various benefits.
Mr. Ray’s removal may never have occurred if his soon-to-be-former spouse had not entered her divorce pleadings citing allegations of adultery. This may raise the question – why might one choose to allege adultery as part of a divorce filing? What are some of the legal consequences for adultery in Tennessee? Is adultery a ground for a Tennessee divorce? What is the potential benefit to making a claim of adultery in a divorce filing?
Is Adultery Against the Law in Tennessee?
Adultery is not a crime in Tennessee. Tennessee does not act to punitively punish a person who has committed adultery. However, adultery is a form of infidelity, and, accordingly, a form of marital misconduct. Adultery may, then, be used as a ground for divorce and may be considered by the court when determining certain aspects of the divorce; such as alimony.
Adultery as Grounds for a Divorce
One spouse committing adultery can form the basis for the other spouse filing for divorce. To be successful in a divorce petition, the party alleging that adultery occurred must prove to the court by a preponderance of the evidence that an extramarital sexual affair actually occurred. If the individual was discreet in their affair, then bringing direct evidence to establish it occurred could be difficult, time consuming, and costly. Accordingly, many choose to file “marital misconduct” as an alternative divorce ground. A party may use circumstantial evidence to support a claim of infidelity as marital misconduct, which would also result in a final divorce decree.
How Might a Claim of Adultery Affect a Divorce?
Some of the ways that a claim of Adultery may affect the divorce decree include considerations of:
- Alimony: one of the factors considered by the court in determining alimony is the relative fault of the parties. Accordingly, the judge may consider adultery/marital misconduct in determining alimony
- Child custody: the court may choose to investigate the evidence of adultery and the potential impact it has on the child’s well-being. Great emphasis is placed on making custody decisions that are in the best interests of the child. Adultery could potentially be seen by the court as evidence that the child’s best interest is not the top priority of the offending parent.
- Dividing marital property: Tennessee generally requires equitable distribution of property in a divorce. Wasteful spending by one spouse – such as expensive gifts to an outside partner and hotel stays – can be categorized as wrongful dissipation of marital assets. Accordingly, the injured spouse may potentially reclaim a portion of the wrongfully dissipated marital assets as part of the property division agreement.
Call Fort, Holloway & Rogers
If you find yourself with decisions to make in your own separation or divorce proceeding, call the experienced Franklin divorce attorneys at Fort, Holloway & Rogers. Our expert advisors can provide you with the sound counsel you need as you move forward.