A divorce is often commenced after one spouse’s act of marital misconduct, whether it is an affair or a spouse’s overspending (to name a few examples). Marriages are rooted in a deep emotional foundation. Marital misconduct strikes at core of that emotional bedrock often leaving one spouse feeling emotionally wounded. Mix the pain caused by the misconduct with an “it wasn’t my fault” mentality and you have the perfect cocktail for a spouse wanting to be vindicated through the divorce process. However, attempting to use the divorce process to be vindicated can be a dangerous proposition. In fact, a Court will widely find misconduct irrelevant to the divorce.
Marital Misconduct Not Needed to Get a Divorce
To get a divorce in Minnesota, one party only has to believe that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown.” As long as there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” in the marriage, a Court will grant the divorce. No matter how heinous or mild the marital misconduct, it does not matter what caused the “irretrievable breakdown.”
Marital Misconduct Irrelevant in Property Division and Spousal Maintenance
Once the divorce process is started, the Court will ultimately decide how to divide the marital property. A Court cannot and will not consider marital misconduct in dividing marital property. Rather, property is divided based on a just and equitable standard.
Even in awarding spousal maintenance (alimony), a Court will not use marital misconduct as a basis for a spousal maintenance award. See our section on spousal maintenance for more information regarding that topic.
Some Misconduct Considered in Custody and Parenting Time
The one place that Minnesota Courts will consider marital misconduct is in determining custody and parenting time. Domestic abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction are all very relevant and important in determining custody and parenting time. This is due to custody and parenting time being determined by the best interests of the minor children. Such conduct, though, must be connected to an effect or possible effect on the minor children.
Why is Vindication a Dangerous Proposition?
Financially Does Not Make Sense
In all divorces, there is a cost/benefit analysis that needs to occur. Chasing a specific award based on the need to be vindicated will likely result in two things: 1) not getting what you set out to get; and 2) spending thousands to get there. Your goal in a divorce should be about protecting your rights and interests. Your attorney will be able to tell you what those rights and interests mean and whether it makes financial sense to pursue them.
Harms Your Rights in the Divorce
A party looking to be vindicated often takes actions outside of the Court in an attempt to implement his/her desired result. This is often done in retaliation to the other spouse’s “bad acts.”
One specific example is when the harmed parent keeps or attempts to keep the children from the “bad actor.” There are times when this may be necessary (e.g., domestic abuse and addiction), but talk to an attorney first before taking such steps. Withholding the children from the other parent for the wrong reasons could result in an unfavorable custody award and/or parenting time schedule.
This retaliatory behavior also applies to actions taken within the Court system. If a party seeks inappropriate relief through the Court, you could face a bad result, sanctions and Court-ordered fees. Relief sought through the Court must be done by aligning the relevant facts with the relevant law.
Divorce is a difficult process no matter the need for it. Marital misconduct is a hard thing for any person to face because of the deep, underlining commitment in a marriage. Expecting vindication in a divorce is stepping off on the wrong foot. Doing so will only leave you angrier and more frustrated in the end.
It’s best to talk with an attorney about your specific rights. A good attorney will be objective, honest, and will help manage your expectations. Such an attorney will not fill your head with false hopes, but reality no matter how hard to swallow.