What is Infidelity? How Collaborative Divorce Can help?

Posted on November 22, 2022.

According to Current Opinion in Psychology, infidelity is the leading reason couples get divorced. Researchers writing in Couple and Family Psychology noted that 88% of divorcing couples cited infidelity as the main reason their marriage ended.

Knowing that infidelity is the leading cause of divorce doesn’t make things any easier when it happens to you. Part of what makes infidelity so painful is the broken trust it represents, especially when it involved weeks, months, or even years of deception.

It can be challenging to rebuild a marriage after trust is so fundamentally broken. And while some couples can rebuild, many choose to move on. If you’ve recently learned that your partner was unfaithful and are considering divorce, this article can help you explore why collaborative divorce might be able to provide a better way forward, especially if you have children.

Truce Law is a collaborative divorce law firm in Seattle, Washington that helps couples use the collaborative divorce process to finalize their divorce agreement. With the collaborative divorce process, both you and your former partner will agree to settle your divorce outside court, at the negotiating table.

The decision to divorce is often an emotional and personal one, but the process of getting divorced involves legal concerns that can involve your finances, your debts, your assets, your retirement accounts, and child custody.

When you take your divorce to court, everything you say in court ends up on the public record. Your dirty laundry, your partner’s infidelity, and anything your partner says about you, or your relationship can end up being recorded by the court. With the collaborative process, your negotiations happen in private.

If things get heated, the only people who will know are you, your former spouse, your lawyers, and any counselors, coaches, planners, or therapists on your team who happen to be in the room.

If you’re getting divorced because you’ve learned your partner was unfaithful, you’re probably understandably angry.

Yet, when couples bring anger into the divorce process, they sometimes end up making important financial and child custody decisions from a place of anger rather than reason. When it comes to making crucial decisions about your financial future and your children’s future, these decisions are best made in a calm manner. With the collaborative divorce process both you and your former partner each will hire your own divorce lawyer who can advise you about your rights and options, putting your best interests first, while also helping you negotiate a peaceful settlement with your former partner.

When couples take their case to trial, they can end up spending thousands of dollars hiring a lawyer to prepare for a court fight, end up waiting months up to a year for a court date, but they still are ordered to try alternative dispute resolution first.

Most adversarial divorces are settled outside of court through mediation or through alternative dispute resolution, but the process can take much longer and cost more because communication is adversarial rather than collaborative. Much more can get done through a group effort than through a fight where it is us versus them.

The collaborative divorce process offers an easier, faster way. Because you won’t be preparing for a court fight, you can put your resources toward finding ways to be better co-parents and to be better stewards of your investments and finances.

Typically, a divorce coach is involved to offer counseling to work through the anger and resentment you might have because of the infidelity. The aim of the collaborative process is understanding, negotiation, conflict resolution, and discourse. To make rational and sound decisions, it helps to work through your anger and resentment first.

While most divorces are resolved outside of court, many couples, in the heat of anger, hire divorce lawyers who put in thousands of dollars of billable hours to prepare them for a court battle at temporary hearings and eventually trial.

With the collaborative divorce process, you’ll begin where those couples end up anyway—at the negotiating table. A collaborative divorce lawyer in Seattle, Washington can work with you and your former partner, bringing counselors, therapists, financial advisors, parenting coaches, and any other specialists you might need to help you reach consensus, understanding, and a divorce settlement.

What is Infidelity?

Definitions of infidelity can vary widely, but a broad definition of infidelity (also often referred to as cheating, or adultery) is any kind of sexual or emotional intimacy with a partner outside the marriage or relationship.

Infidelity can be difficult to define or pin down because definitions of infidelity can differ from couple to couple. Some couples may view sexual intimacy with a person outside the relationship as an act of infidelity but may not consider emotional infidelity (things like crushes or emotional affairs) as cheating.

Other couples may have more open relationships where infidelity is more narrowly defined. In some cases, sexual relationships may be permitted, but emotional infidelity would be seen as crossing a line. For many couples, infidelity may include any kind of emotional or sexual intimacy with a partner not in the marriage.

Despite these varying definitions, at the core of infidelity is a violation of trust and a breakdown of honest communication. Even in couples in open marriages where both partners are permitted to have extramarital sexual relationships, infidelity can occur if one partner violates the agreed upon “rules” of their arrangement.

(In some cases, this might involve secret affairs, having an affair with someone considered off-limits, or falling in love with a person with whom they are having a sexual relationship.) Couples who choose to work on their marriages after infidelity occurs often must rebuild trust, develop more open forms of communication, and may even need to redefine the ground rules for their relationship.

Some couples can rebuild their marriages after infidelity and come out stronger (but this can involve extensive couple’s therapy, counseling, and hard work).

According to Couple and Family Psychology there are periods in a relationship where the risk of infidelity is greater, such as when children are born, during periods of heavy drinking, and if one partner develops friendships with attractive people of the opposite sex. Stress can also increase the risk of infidelity (especially stress brought on by work travel or periods where marital satisfaction is low).

There are different types of infidelity. Sometimes infidelity occurs, when people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For some people, this might be too much to forgive, but in the case of infidelity where someone gave in to temptation, but the marriage is otherwise strong, sometimes these kinds of infidelities can be worked through.

Yet, if your partner was unfaithful because he or she was seeking something: either sexual or emotional that he or she wasn’t getting in the relationship, or, if one partner meets someone new and finds himself or herself torn between the marriage and the draw of a new relationship, this could cause major conflict that can be difficult to resolve.

If your marriage is based on the foundation of exclusivity, then these kinds of situations can lead to divorce. They can rip at the seams that are weak in the marriage. For couples where the marriage already had its internal issues, infidelity can be the “last straw” that leads to divorce. At the end of the day, whether your marriage can survive infidelity is a choice you’ll ultimately need to make.

How Common is Infidelity?

It can be very difficult to accurately gauge how common infidelity takes place. According to researchers writing in Couple and Family Psychology 88% of divorcing couples cited infidelity as the main reason why they were getting divorced. The common statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce is not accurate (though it was accurate in the 1980s).

According to Time, about 39% of marriages end in divorce. Yet, even if not quite half of all marriages end in divorce, if 88% of divorces end because of infidelity, this would suggest that there’s quite a bit of infidelity going on (especially when you factor in the fact that not all infidelity leads to the end of a marriage).

Yet, it can be difficult to accurately gauge how often infidelity occurs because studies about infidelity require researchers to survey married couples and ask them whether they cheated. As you can imagine, some people who have cheated might be reluctant to admit infidelity.

According to Current Research Journal of Social Sciences conservative estimates say that 4% of men and 2% of women cheat each year, but when individuals were asked about whether they had ever cheated on their spouse over the course of their marriage, 12% of women and 23% of men admitted to having been unfaithful at some point in their marriage.

Because definitions of infidelity can vary from couple to couple it can also be difficult to get an accurate estimate of how often infidelity occurs in marriage. The key takeaway is this: most researchers put their estimates of infidelity at much higher rates then people self-report.

Benefits of Avoiding a High-Conflict Divorce After Infidelity

Infidelity can increase the risk of your divorce being a high-conflict divorce. While there isn’t a standard definition of what constitutes a “high conflict” divorce, according to the Journal of Child and Family Studies, high conflict divorces are characterized by “long-lasting conflict, hostility, blame, criticism, and the inability to take responsibility for their part in the dispute.”

A high conflict divorce not only makes it more difficult for couples to make decisions about how to divide assets, property, and debts, but can make it very difficult for the couple to set the stage to be better co-parents. If you have children, a high conflict divorce can impact your children negatively.

According to Couple and Family Psychology, marital conflict can negatively impact children’s academic success, psychological health, and increase the risk of depression and anxiety.

Research on how divorce in general impacts children is mixed. Some research indicates that children can show incredible resilience after their parents’ divorce and can adapt well to the new circumstances. If their parents are happier apart, children fare better living in two separate homes where their parents are happy, rather than in one home where their parents stay unhappily together.

Yet, some children can have long-lasting trauma and suffer psychologically and in their future relationships if the divorce is high conflict. Researchers writing in the Journal of Child and Family Studies note, “children who are exposed to long-lasting, intense, and bitter conflict between their parents after the divorce are more depressed and show more psychological symptoms than children whose parents have only minor conflict.”

However, it is important to note that children react differently to traumatic events, with some children showing more resilience than others. Researchers indicate that other factors can impact how a child handles their parents’ high conflict divorce, including self-esteem, understanding about how the divorce will impact their lives, the child’s perception about parental conflict, and the time since the divorce took place.

Infidelity can understandably lead to feelings of resentment and anger. If you feel like you might be on a path to a high-conflict divorce, the collaborative divorce process might be able to offer your family the resources and strategies to diffuse conflict at the negotiating table and help your children better adjust to the divorce.

Collaborative divorce can help you and your former partner gain a better understanding of what you both want for your children and your family given changed circumstances, and it can provide you with the resources you need to become better co-parents who can best support your children through this major life-adjustment.

Your collaborative divorce team can include both you and your former partner’s lawyers, but it can also include divorce counselors, parenting coaches, child counselors, and more. For example, divorce counseling is a kind of couple’s counseling you and your former partner can participate in that can help you navigate the uncertainty and strong feelings surrounding your divorce, give you tools to better manage co-parenting conflicts and disagreements about how to raise your children, and help you and your former partner achieve closure.

Finally, there are financial risks of being in a high-conflict divorce. For example, if you cannot make decisions about what to do with the family home and one partner is resisting a resolution because of anger and resentment, you could end up in a position where a judge might order you to sell the home and split the proceeds. Sound financial decisions shouldn’t be made from a place of anger. Collaborative divorce can give you the tools to make financial decisions, with grace and care.

Collaborative Divorce After Infidelity

If you’ve decided your marriage is over after you’ve learned about your partner’s infidelity and want to get divorced, you may want to carefully consider your next steps. Washington state is a “no fault” divorce state. What does this mean?

It means that if you take your divorce to court to fight about dividing property, debts, assets, retirement accounts, and child custody, the judge will not take marital misconduct into account.

While you might understandably be angry that your partner cheated on you, your partner’s infidelity will play no role in how a judge will consider the divisions of assets, property, debts, and how a judge will consider matters of child custody.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. If your former partner had a secret affair for months or years and spent marital assets on the affair (for example, he or she kept a secret apartment, or bought expensive gifts for an extramarital partner, or spent the money you both had saved on that trip to Greece on another vacation with his or her latest fling), then you might be able to recover the loss of these marital assets through the division of your property.

And if your spouse’s new partner is abusive, or you believe he or she poses a risk to your children due to substance abuse, domestic violence, or other issues, these concerns could certainly affect child custody.

Yet, in most divorces involving infidelity, no significant assets were spent to support an adulterous relationship, and in most cases, there won’t really be compelling legal reasons why your children shouldn’t be around your former husband or wife’s new partner (while of course, we understand that you may have your own reasons why you don’t want your children around this person).

Traditional divorce involves both parties getting their own divorce lawyers and then each lawyer preparing for court. Given that infidelity often involves heightened emotions, it is understandable that you might want to fight it out in court. If you’re angry, it is understandable to want to get as much as you can and maybe fight for sole custody, too.

The reality is that if you go this route, and end up in trial, a judge will make decisions for you, and there’s a risk these might be decisions neither of you want. For example, if you can’t decide what to do about the family home, the judge might force you to put it on sale and split the proceeds.

And in almost all situations (except those involving substance abuse, or physical or sexual abuse) the judge will require that your parenting plan include provisions for regular visitation and contact with both parents.

We understand that emotions might be high, especially if infidelity is involved. One of the benefits of choosing collaborative divorce is that because you won’t be wasting money preparing for conflict, you can invest in counseling to help you and your former partner work through anger, resentment, and disagreement, so that you can make better long-term decisions at the negotiating table. These decisions can also help you become better co-parents as you adjust from marital cohabitation to your new lives apart.

The collaborative divorce lawyers in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law are skilled at conflict resolution and negotiation and can help you get divorced after infidelity.

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