Many people might not realize this, but because marriage is a legally binding contract, adultery is often considered a crime. In fact, in 20 states it is illegal to cheat on a spouse. Adultery is defined as any sexual relation occurring outside the bond of marriage. How these relations are defined is dependent on where you live, so it isn’t a bad idea to read up on the local laws if you believe your spouse has committed adultery.
Of course, the consequences exceed legal boundaries as well. Those who have cheated on a significant other, married or not, will likely face social stigma, and possibly religious consequences as well.
Historical penalties for this crime usually involve torture, mutilation, and death. Here in the United States, we don’t take it quite so far anymore. Even so, this country is one of the few developed nations that still criminalize the act at all. Adultery is considered a felony in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Michigan. In the other states the crime is considered a misdemeanor, even, surprisingly, in New York.
Penalties vary wildly. You may receive as little as a ten dollar fine in Maryland, or as many as four years in prison if convicted in Michigan.
There are a few odd laws that are still on the books that stem from the base accusation of adultery. For example, Florida only recently decriminalized a law that made cohabitation of unmarried couples a crime.
In six other states, the “damaged” party can sue the homewrecking party for “alienation of affections.”
The more likely consequences for infidelity occur in divorce court if a couple can’t settle its differences through more amenable means. An unfaithful partner is least likely to be treated as an equal when it comes to the splitting of resources or alimony.
There is a lot of criticism against adultery laws that still exist because most were allegedly put in place as a deterrent to keep women faithful, and not the other way around. These laws are steeped in religious belief, as many spiritual texts allow the faithful to believe that women have a duty to remain submissive to their male counterparts.
If the offending party is a member of the U.S. armed forces, then he or she could be subject to a court-martial. These cases are rare, but not unheard of.