What is adultery?
It may sound like an obvious question, but the law in England and Wales has a very narrow definition of adultery.
It’s defined as sexual intercourse between a consenting man and woman when at least one partner is married to someone else.
Rape – including sex with someone under 16 – is not counted as adultery. In the eyes of a divorce court, this kind of illegal wrongdoing is counted as “behaviour”.
Neither is same-sex intercourse, meaning same-sex couples can’t use adultery as grounds for divorce.
For this reason, it also can’t be a basis for divorce if one member of a heterosexual couple has sexual intercourse with a member of the same sex.
Is it the same as cheating?
As previously mentioned, adultery must involve sexual intercourse.
To us, cheating could mean kissing, flirting, visiting online dating sites or other forms of sexual activity, but these acts aren’t considered adultery by the law.
However, as no sexual intercourse has taken place, no adultery has been committed – even if the intention is there.
Is it illegal in the UK and is it grounds for divorce?
In the UK, adultery is not a criminal offence.
However, it is grounds for divorce.
Due to the narrow definition, divorces due to adultery are actually far less common than you’d expect.
It can only be used as a reason for divorce if the proceedings start within six months of the adultery coming to light.
This means the spouse petitioning for divorce has a very short amount of time to decide whether to give their husband or wife another chance. It is very important to note that a spouse must not live with their partner as a couple for more than six months after discovering their infidelity, otherwise they are deemed to have accepted the act of adultery. Accordingly, action must be taken within 6 months of discovering the adultery.