Marital misconduct is immoral or dangerous behavior engaged in by one or both spouses during the marriage. It can take many forms, such as adultery, physical harm, or substance abuse. Generally, courts don’t consider certain types of misconduct when making decisions about divorce-related matters. However, if the spouse’s actions put the other spouse or children at risk, issues like child custody may be impacted.
If you claim that your spouse engaged in misconduct during your marriage and want the court to factor that into its decisions, you must prove your arguments. Proof can include photographic evidence of the wrongdoing, witness testimony, and/or reports and records. Divorces can be complicated matters and if you’re trying to show that specific issues should be decided in certain ways because of misconduct, have a family law lawyer help you through your case.
What Is Marital Misconduct?
Marital misconduct is alleged misbehavior committed by one or both spouses. In some cases, it is the reason one party in the relationship is seeking a divorce.
Various types of behaviors can be considered marital misconduct, including, but not limited to:
- Substance abuse,
- Physical or mental abuse,
- Reckless spending of income,
- Destruction of property, or
- Deprivation of basic necessities.
What Divorce-Related Issues Can Marital Misconduct Impact?
The impact marital misconduct can have on a divorce varies. Depending on what it is, it may not have an effect at all.
For instance, California is a no-fault divorce state. The only two grounds for a dissolution of marriage are irreconcilable differences and permanent legal incapacity to make decisions. Thus, neither party must prove that the other did anything wrong to seek or be granted a divorce. The court will order the marriage dissolved no matter the reason, provided that the marriage is irreparably broken.
Aside from the granting of a divorce, other key issues will likely be unaffected by marital misconduct unless the behavior somehow spilled over into the divorce. To illustrate, suppose one of the spouses was wasteful with income or careless with property. In the divorce, that conduct may not affect how debts or property are divided. The distribution will still follow California’s 50/50 split law.
But suppose the spouse continued the misconduct during the divorce proceedings by hiding assets or misrepresenting information on financial disclosures, for example. The court may then order the individual to financially compensate the other spouse.
Although some types of misconduct may not impact a divorce, others might significantly affect how certain matters are settled. This is most often the case in situations involving domestic violence.
Domestic violence involves various types of harm against a person’s family members, including their spouse, such as:
- Physical abuse,
- Emotional abuse,
- Financial abuse,
- Stalking and harassment, and
- Destruction of property.
Judges may consider a history of abuse when deciding whether to grant a spouse’s request for spousal support. If the requesting spouse was convicted of misdemeanor or felony domestic violence within 5 years of the divorce proceedings, they cannot be awarded spousal support (California Family Code §§ 4325 & 4324.5).
Domestic violence may also impact child custody and visitation matters. A judge considers the child’s best interests when deciding on these issues. The top concern is keeping the child out of situations placing them in danger of harm. Allowing an abusive parent to access a child goes against this aim. Therefore, the judge may deny joint legal or physical custody.
The judge may also limit the abusive parent to supervised visitation, meaning that the other parent or a third party must be present during visits. In cases where the judge believes that the parent having any contact with the child would be detrimental to the child’s physical or emotional well-being, they could deny visitation altogether.
How Do You Prove Marital Misconduct?
Proving marital misconduct requires presenting various evidence to support the claims.
Evidence can include:
- Photographs: Images documenting injuries suffered or property damaged.
- Expert testimony: Statements from a medical or mental health professional discussing signs and symptoms of abuse.
- Witness statements: Accounts from others who might have seen the abuse or misconduct.
- Records and reports: Medical and/or financial documents showing the outcomes of the spouse’s misbehavior.
Discuss Your Case with an Attorney
Marital misconduct can impact your divorce, depending on what it was and the issues you are trying to resolve. A lawyer can help build and present your case to protect your rights and best interests.
To speak with one of our Los Angeles attorneys at Claery & Hammond, LLP, please call us at (310) 817-6904 or submit an online contact form today.