Is Cheating on Your Spouse Illegal in the U.S.? Legal Insights & Implications

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In the United States, the legal stance on adultery, or cheating on one’s spouse, varies significantly across different states. While traditionally viewed as a moral and social issue, adultery does intersect with legal frameworks, especially within the realms of family law and, in some jurisdictions, criminal law. This article explores the legal implications of cheating on a spouse in the U.S., highlighting relevant penal codes, the impact on divorce proceedings, and notable exceptions.

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Adultery is defined as voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone who is not their spouse. The legal recognition of adultery requires proof of sexual relations outside the marriage, which can sometimes be challenging to establish.

Adultery as a Criminal Offense

Historically, many U.S. states classified adultery as a criminal offense. However, as of the 21st century, the enforcement and relevance of these laws have diminished, with many states decriminalizing the act or choosing not to enforce existing statutes.

States with Adultery Laws: As of the latest updates, states such as Michigan and Wisconsin still have laws on the books classifying adultery as a criminal offense, punishable by fines and, in rare cases, imprisonment.

  1. Alabama
    • Adultery is considered a Class B misdemeanor.
  2. Arizona
    • Engaging in adultery is punishable under the state’s laws but rarely enforced.
  3. Florida
    • Adultery can be classified as a second-degree misdemeanor.
  4. Georgia
    • Adultery is a misdemeanor offense that can lead to fines and jail time.
  5. Idaho
    • The law states adultery is a felony, subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both.
  6. Illinois
    • Classified as a Class A misdemeanor, adultery carries potential fines and jail time.
  7. Kansas
    • Adultery is a Class C misdemeanor with potential fines.
  8. Maryland
    • Adultery is a misdemeanor, with a fine as the typical punishment.
  9. Massachusetts
    • The state’s law provides for a fine, imprisonment, or both.
  10. Michigan
    • Adultery can be prosecuted as a felony, but prosecutions are rare.
  11. Minnesota
    • Classified as a misdemeanor, with potential fines.
  12. Mississippi
    • Adultery can lead to a fine, imprisonment, or both.
  13. New Hampshire
    • Adultery was decriminalized in 2014, reflecting changing attitudes.
  14. New York
    • Considered a Class B misdemeanor.
  15. North Carolina
    • Laws allow for civil action against the third party in cases of adultery.
  16. Oklahoma
    • Adultery is considered a felony, with potential imprisonment.
  17. Rhode Island
    • Classified as a misdemeanor, with fines for violations.
  18. South Carolina
    • Adultery can result in fines and/or imprisonment.
  19. Utah
    • As a misdemeanor, it carries potential fines and jail time.
  20. Virginia
    • Adultery is a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine.
  21. Wisconsin
    • Classified as a Class I felony, subject to fines and imprisonment.

Enforcement and Prosecution: Despite the presence of such laws, prosecution for adultery is extremely rare. Legal experts note that enforcement typically requires a complaint from the aggrieved spouse, and even then, local authorities are hesitant to allocate resources to such cases.

Impact on Divorce Proceedings

Where adultery has a more pronounced legal impact is in the arena of divorce law. While all 50 states offer no-fault divorce options, meaning neither party needs to prove wrongdoing to dissolve the marriage, adultery can still influence divorce proceedings in several ways:

  1. Alimony and Spousal Support: In some states, proof of adultery can affect the calculation of alimony or spousal support. A spouse found guilty of adultery may receive a reduced alimony award or, conversely, may be ordered to pay more in support to the non-adulterous spouse.
  2. Division of Assets: Similarly, adultery can play a role in how marital assets are divided, especially if the adulterous spouse is found to have used marital funds to support the extramarital relationship.

Notable Exceptions and Considerations

Some states have specific provisions or exceptions regarding adultery. For example, in jurisdictions where adultery remains a criminal offense, there may be statutes of limitations that limit the timeframe within which charges can be brought. Additionally, some states require that the adulterous acts occur under certain conditions, such as cohabitation, to meet the legal definition of adultery.


While the legal landscape regarding adultery in the U.S. is complex and varies by state, the trend is towards decriminalization and a focus on the impact of adultery in divorce proceedings rather than criminal penalties. Individuals concerned about the legal implications of adultery in their own lives should consult with a family law attorney in their state to understand the specific laws and regulations that may apply.


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