Al describes the discovery of his wife’s infidelity in a Zoom call to a family law lawyer. He has learned his wife is cheating. Last night he discovered sexting messages on his wife’s iPhone – clearly, her business trips have involved more than just business. Thinking quickly, he turned on the location services function on her phone and tracked her whereabouts to be absolutely certain that she was having an affair. Sadly, his worst fears were realized: the affair was with a close family friend.
As Al emailed some of his wife’s friends, his alarm grew. He was desperate for answers. Her friends quickly “unfriended” him on social media, blocked his texts, and refused to respond to his emails. As he thought about all the ramifications, panic began to set in. Al had left a career to stay home and homeschool their children. He maintains the family Instagram account that showcases their children, their pets, their vegan meals, and local outings. He is developing a serious following as an Instadaddy and this has the potential to ruin it all. His dreams of influencer fame are fading fast.
Al is angry and frustrated. He has questions and he needs answers. How does he tell his wife’s boss that she cannot be trusted? How does he tell the children that their mother is having an affair and cannot be trusted? How does he pay the bills when he has no idea where their funds are saved? How does he announce to his social media followers that his marriage is breaking up?
To make matters worse, upon confrontation, his wife threatens him with a restraining order, accusing him of electronic stalking. She also wants him to stop drinking. Al admits to drinking a bit too much at times; but this is a rough patch, and when the lawyers ask about stopping, he responds, “I don’t have a problem!” The injustice of his wife accusing him of having a drinking problem when she has stepped out of the marriage is unfair, and Al is sure the Court will side with him.
The end of a marriage is most often the result of actions on the part of both spouses. Nevertheless, the emotional distress caused by the discovery of marital infidelity can make the best of people (and clients) take irrational (and sometimes unwise) actions. Below are some suggestions garnered from years of experience working with spouses on both sides of these issues.
Six Tips to Take if You Find Out Your Spouse is Cheating
1. Protect Your Finances
If you do not manage the household finances, now is the time to educate yourself about your income and investments. Your goal should be to gather two years of tax returns as well as six months of bank, credit card, and financial statements. You may also want to pull your credit report and make sure you have access to all your online accounts. Immediately (or sooner), you should open a credit card in your own name to be sure you have access to credit and a bank account in your own name. Also, avoid revenge spending, it will not reflect well if you appear to be running up bills to punish your spouse. Instead, focus on the long-term goal of negotiating the best financial settlement you can get.
2. Leave the Children Out of It
Children should not be required to pick sides or be told the details of the affair. A counselor who is skilled at working with children can help answer questions in an age-appropriate way. In addition, an angry parent who tells the children details about a spouse’s affair can have this behavior backfire, as they may be accused of “parental alienation” or “gatekeeping” in court.
3. Do not Accuse Without Evidence
Gather as much evidence as you can, including texts, credit card bills, account statements, and social media activity. If your spouse receives expense reimbursements for work travel, have the reimbursements been deposited into the community accounts? Money spent on an affair can be recoverable or offset in a divorce case. The cheating spouse may have been buying gift cards instead of cash, and you may what to check your bank and credit card statements for gift card purchases. Also, money spent on gambling and internet pornography can be recovered.
4. Seek Counseling
The feeling of betrayal is not something that can easily be cured. A licensed counselor or psychologist can help address the emotional aftermath. Marriages can survive affairs and you will be making difficult decisions about whether to remain married or divorce. The resolution may be to remain married with the assistance of a marriage counselor.
5. Choose the Right Family Law Lawyer
A specialized family law attorney will advise you of your legal rights and help you with a plan of action. For example, in a no-fault state, the affair will not be a factor in the financial award unless there was a large amount of spending on the affair. A lawyer will also provide a range of spousal support (alimony and child support) and a strategy for you if you would prefer to remain in the family home. You should select a lawyer who focuses solely on family law, and you may want to interview two or three. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has peer-reviewed lawyers who focus on family law matters. The Academy is an organization of the most dedicated and professional family lawyers who are recognized and respected by the bench and bar as leaders in the field. The American Bar Association also has a Family Law Section with members dedicated to serving the field of family law.
5. Avoid Calling your Spouse’s Employer or Announcing the Affair on Social Media
In many cases, the affair started at work and it is tempting to call and report the affair to your spouse’s boss. Retaliation for learning about an affair is tempting but generally a mistake. What if you are the financially disadvantaged spouse who has caused the cheating spouse to be terminated? The Court is not going to be too sympathetic if your conduct contributed to the financial hardship. Similarly, announcing an affair on social media or in an email blast to your friends and family will only come back on you, as these types of announcements appear angry and bitter, and may make people sympathetic to your spouse, or cause gossip in your community and tarnish your spouse’s reputation. Also, these types of emails have a way of ending up in the wrong hands, like teenagers or extended family that you may not want knowing all of the details.
Lisa practices exclusively in Family Law and represents high-net-worth individuals from both the private and public sectors. Skilled in Financial and Custody Litigation, Prenuptial Agreements, Custody Evaluations, Mediation, and Trial Practice, Lisa is resolution-oriented and provides personalized service to her clients at particularly trying and emotional times. www.lasher.com