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Spousal Support to Adulterous Spouse Denied

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There are very few states in the U.S. which continue to base the outcome of a divorce on fault committed by one of the spouses during the marriage. However, Virginia is an exception to this rule, and a recent decision by the Virginia Court of Appeals has denied spousal support to a woman who cheated on her husband during their marriage.

The couple at the center of the case titled Mundy v. Mundy had been married for many years prior to their divorce. According to the trial court, the husband had provided nearly all financial support for their family, which included a child in college and one in medical school at the time of their divorce. The husband had also contributed substantially to the care of the couple’s children, taken the family on vacations, and taken them on frequent trips to cultural events. The wife had graduated with a degree in engineering from Rice University, but had not worked outside the home since the 1990s, aside from a brief stint working in an art gallery. The court nevertheless determined that the wife could make approximately $22 an hour within a few months of entering the workforce. The wife admitted to numerous instances of adultery committed with a member of her rock band, as well as with her personal trainer. The wife conceded at trial that the husband had not committed a significant amount of fault during the marriage. In the property settlement agreement, the wife received $1.3 million in retirement funds and $397,000 in cash, while the husband received the family’s home valued at $779,695. The husband had an annual income of over $850,000, and a net worth of $1 million.

Under Virginia law, while adulterous spouses are generally denied support, there is an exception to the rule if the adulterous spouse can show with “clear and convincing evidence, that a denial of support and maintenance would constitute a manifest injustice, based on the respective degrees of fault during the marriage and the relative economic circumstances of the parties.” The trial court judge who heard the couple’s divorce determined that there would be such a manifest injustice if the wife did not receive spousal support, but the Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed the grant of support. The Court of Appeals pointed out that past courts required more evidence for a showing of “manifest injustice.” For example, a court granted spousal support where the cheated-on spouse had been cruel and profane toward his family for years, making his degree of fault during the marriage almost comparable to his unfaithful wife’s. Another court found that spousal support was warranted where the paying spouse had a net worth of over $6 million, while the unfaithful spouse made $10 per hour and had no significant assets. In the Mundy case, the husband had been essentially without fault, the wife was by no means destitute, and the adultery constituted the main reason for the end of the marriage. The Court of Appeals found no basis for concluding that manifest injustice would exist if the wife didn’t receive spousal support. The court concluded, “it would be a manifest injustice to require a faultless spouse to pay support to a work-capable, millionaire spouse, guilty of repeated acts of adultery with several co-respondents.”

If you are facing divorce in Virginia and need diligent, aggressive legal help to represent your interests, contact the Bedford offices of the Pack Law Group for a consultation, at 540-586-7225.

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