The Legal Side of Infidelity "Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money, the $#!* has Hit the Fan" Warren Zevon As a Christian, I always understood marriage to be a biblical union of two people, a part of God's plan for companionship as first illustrated in the Garden of Eden. Common text book definitions note a union of two people or a combination of two or more elements. While its roots are biblical, our society recognizes it as an institution, inherent with legal rights and responsibilities. As we all know, healing and reconciliation in this arena takes significant time and work. The problem is, the legal system we use to institutionalize marriage does not give incentive to allow time to "wait and see." While I have great appreciation for the request of AR early on in recovery to commit to giving the "stay or go" decision time, as an attorney I was often overwhelmed by the fact that my legal position in a divorce was at its best in the moment of discovery. In short, my ability to use adultery as a defense to claims of spousal support or character issues in custody diminished with each day I allowed to pass after discovery. Having sex with my wife could be seen as reconciliation by some courts. While I wanted to believe we might have a future, I couldn't "un-know" what I knew to be true as an attorney any more than I could undo the fact we were facing this destruction. About eight months into recovery my wife finally began to show an attitude of being "all in." She became truly committed to her own healing and was showing me she was willing to do whatever she could to salvage what was left of our marriage. While I was already deep in my individual work towards healing me, this seemed like the beginning of the journey towards healing us. I want to be clear, I always wanted to see "us" work. I've never wanted a divorce. In many ways, discovering her affair felt more like finding her passed out intoxicated by a dumpster than being jilted by another lover. She was sick and in need of help, and I knew there was so much more to her than her actions were showing. However, with my marriage pushed towards the literal edge of a cliff, it would have been irresponsible to not have done what I could to protect myself and my child's own safety and future well-being. In hopes of encouraging me to give it time, my wife was full of promises of how we would amicably divide assets and not seek any support if I decided to end the marriage. At that time, I did not know much with certainty. What I did know is she had been capable of going to great lengths to lie to me, for a long time, even when I thought that was not possible. Being an attorney, I knew there was great risk in giving the future of our marriage "time." These fears were exacerbated by the fact poverty was a real issue for me as a child, and the threat of losing what wealth I had accumulated worked strongly against efforts to build hope. Countless times I have seen people disappointed in my office when their understanding of someone else's promises and intentions did not pan out. While I appreciated her commitments to me to be "fair" and equitable if we split, I also knew the worst in people often comes out when they start worrying about how to pay the light bill. The real possibility of divorce meant her gloves could come off at any time, and I was tired of feeling naïve and exploited. I practice law in a small area in the south. While I knew a family law attorney I often referred clients to with success, the idea of calling her and revealing all my personal dysfunction was… well… humiliating to say the least. I truly thank God, I had the strength to swallow my pride in that moment and make the call. Now that I am over two years out, I can look back and see that decision was instrumental in giving me the space I needed to give my marriage a real chance. As we all know, fear will lie and distort your ability to act rationally. Marriage is seen by the eyes of the law as a contract, and as such there are certain inherent rights and obligations to anyone who enters. These rights are complicated and difficult to navigate, especially while trying to make room to be emotionally vulnerable to reconciliation. Some states consider adultery in determining matters of support or custody, some do not. Some judges interpret laws differently within a single jurisdiction. If I want to try separation should I leave or kick her out? The decision could affect my ability to seek custody, to keep a house, or other assets. The point is rules vary greatly and many of the decisions we face have lasting consequences, whether we realize it at the time or not. My state is one that honors the enforcement of post nuptial agreements. As a result, my wife and I were able to come to terms for dividing our lives if we ended up divorcing. No longer did I feel the stress of losing the grounds of adultery, should this attempt at reconciliation not work. This helped give me the ability to open up vulnerably to the idea of submitting myself again emotionally to my wife. I think it also fully opened my wife's eyes to all the security she had given up by her actions. Saying you understand is one thing, signing an enforceable contract expressing your understanding is another altogether. The law inherently affords you rights to your marriage so why not tailor those rights to your specific circumstances. Just as I do not think I could've successfully navigated a path to emotional healing without good therapists, my rights could not have been fully protected while trying to recover without the help of good legal counsel. As an attorney, I was lucky to have had the professional experience with colleagues to know who was best to consult. I know this is not so simple for others. Right after discovery, my wife and I sought counseling for the first time in our marriage. We bounced through several incompetent and incapable counselors before finally landing on good resources. It took time and money. I am afraid finding a lawyer can often be similar. However, the confidence of truly understanding your circumstances is worth the investment. When dealing with infidelity, emotions are high; and clear, rational thinking is hard to come by. In this environment, you are drilled with many decisions that will have lasting and generational effects. While the expense of retaining counsel may seem high, the expense of rashly giving up rights can be incalculable.