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Can a spouse's infidelity help your divorce settlement?

The subject of infidelity was all over the news recently with reports that hackers infiltrated AshleyMadison.com and are threatening to expose its 37 million users' names and personal information. The site bills itself as the "world's leading married dating service for discreet encounters."

While infidelity doesn't always mean the end of a marriage, one marriage therapist estimates that for about 50 percent of couples, a revelation of cheating leads to divorce sooner rather than later.

When that's the case, is the spouse who has been cheated on likely to fare better in the divorce? Many people are surprised when they don't. Unfaithful spouses were more likely to have literally paid a price for their actions in our parents' and grandparents' day than they are now that no-fault divorce has become increasingly common.

As one divorce attorney points out, despite the outrage often felt by a spouse at his or her partner's infidelity, in most cases, "the judge has no interest in the salacious details of your marriage. To them, it's just another relationship that didn't work out."

That doesn't mean that betrayed spouses can't use their partners' actions to their advantage as they work their way through divorce and custody agreements. Sometimes, cheating husbands and wives agree to a settlement advantageous to their spouse because they feel guilty for the pain they've caused. They may also be more likely to want to settle the case quickly and quietly to help preserve their reputation. In some cases, prenuptial agreements have a clause that requires the unfaithful spouse to pay more.

A spouse's infidelity can also be used against him or her in child custody arrangements. This is particularly true if there is evidence that he or she was exposing the children to other men or women or if they were engaged in less than savory behavior, either online, via telephone or in person, while their children were present.

It's only natural to feel angry and perhaps vindictive when a spouse has broken your marital vows, no matter what the circumstances. However, if you hope to parlay his or her bad behavior into a better divorce and custody agreement, it's essential to be smart about how you do it. Family law attorneys will attest to the fact that threats to ruin someone's personal or professional reputation or their relationship with their children can easily backfire. Divorce negotiations should be approached intelligently.

Source: Forbes, "Ashley Madison Hack Would Mean 'Boon for Divorce Lawyers and Marriage Therapists'," Emma Johnson, July 20, 2015

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Commandments of Family Law

  1. The only truth your children need to know is that you both love them unconditionally, and that this isn't their fault.
  2. Take the high road — everyone wins when you do what's best for your kids.
  3. Negotiate but don't capitulate — if you are being pushed toward something detrimental for your children, stand your ground.
  4. You can only control yourself and how you respond. Don't engage.
  5. Do set up rules and responsibilities. Kids feel better when routine is continued.
  6. You are still their parent — don't be afraid to be one.
  7. Disneyland is in California, not in your home. Don't set up unreasonable expectations.
  8. It is not their job to take care of you. Repeat that to them. Often.
  9. Yelling is for sports — not court. Good lawyers strongly advocate without being disrespectful to opposing parties.
  10. Fair is a place you go to get cheese curds. Aside from that, nothing in life is fair.

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