What is adultery, is it the same as cheating, is it illegal in the UK and is it grounds for divorce?

MANY of us see adultery and cheating as interchangeable terms.

But in the eyes of a divorce court, they’re very different things. Here’s everything you need to know about the UK laws surrounding infidelity.

 Many people aren't aware of the legal definition of adultery

Many people aren’t aware of the legal definition of adulteryCredit: Getty – Contributor

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 “unreasonable 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.

 Finding texts on your partner's phone doesn't necessarily constitute adultery

Finding texts on your partner’s phone doesn’t necessarily constitute adulteryCredit: Getty – Contributor

Is it the same as cheating?

As previously mentioned, adultery must involve sexual intercourse.

To us, cheating could mean kissing, flirting or other forms of sexual activity, but these acts aren’t considered adultery by the law.

According to Grant Stephens Family Law, there are many examples of one spouse discovering that their other half has been using online dating sites.

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.

 Far fewer divorces are filed due to adultery than you'd expect

Far fewer divorces are filed due to adultery than you’d expectCredit: Getty – Contributor

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.

Slater Gordon explains that a spouse must not live with their partner as a couple for six months or more after discovering their infidelity.

If they do, they forgo their right to give adultery as a reason for separation.

The legal definition of adultery is increasingly outdated given the changes in the law over recent decades, particularly when it comes to same-sex relationships.

This has led many to call for a change in the law to address the fact that same-sex intercourse doesn’t constitute adultery.

In September 2018, it was announced that couples are set to be allowed “no fault” divorces in the first shake-up of the law for half a century.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said he planned new legislation to end “unnecessary antagonism”.

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