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Is Adultery a Felony in Massachusetts?

How cathartic would it be if your cheating spouse were sent to jail?

Adultery is a felony in Massachusetts and is punishable by a state prison sentence of up to 3 years. However, what are the odds that a person committing adultery is actually charged, let alone convicted and sentenced to prison? Slim to none.

At one point, Massachusetts, with it’s puritan roots, actively criminally punished adultery, along with shaming and socially stigmatizing the adulterer. But that was a long time ago.

If you now call the police to attempt to convince them to charge your spouse with adultery, you’re likely to be advised to take your business to family court.

Impact of adultery on divorce

Although there’s little to no risk of incarceration for adultery, it may have an impact on your divorce.

For example, if a cheating spouse is spending significant amounts of money on an extra- marital affair, that may affect property division. If the cheating spouse is in a relationshipthat presents a risk to the children, that may be considered in determining custody and a parenting plan.

However, even the family courts have recently treated adultery less harshly than in the past. Awhile back, if a spouse was labeled an adulterer, that significantly increased the odds that person would be “punished” in some form in the divorce - usually by the other spouse receiving a greater portion of the assets - even without a solid numbers-based reason.

As time went on though, society and the courts came to realize, that although adultery is still considered amoral, it may be unfair to automatically impose significant financial penalties on someone without considering the facts of each specific case.

For example, if a domestic violence victim seeks help and security outside the marriage and thereby becomes an adulterer, should that person be punished financially? What about an extra-marital affair that’s had no impact on finances or child-rearing?

The greater the impact the affair had on either the marital finances or child-care, the higher the likelihood that it will impact the divorce.


Different fact patterns require different approaches. Although adultery is still technically a felony in MA, the court will no longer automatically punish the cheating spouse, but will instead examine the facts and circumstances of that particular case to determine whether it should impact the analysis on a key issue such as property division or child custody.

If you have any questions about adultery in divorce, feel free to contact us for a comprehensive assessment.

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Is adultery a crime in MA?
Yes, adultery is a felony in MA and is punishable by a state prison sentence of up to 3 years. However, the odds are very low that adultery will ever result in an actual criminal charge, let alone jail time. If someone brings this issue to law enforcement and requests that charges be filed, they will likely be instructed to deal with it in family court.
Can you sue for adultery in Massachusetts?
You can file divorce on the grounds of adultery in Massachusetts. However, unless you can prove significant negative impact to the children or the finances, it may unnecessarily complicate your divorce because it will create a burden of proving the adultery—which is unnecessary if it will ultimately have no impact on the case.
Is dating during separation adultery in MA?
Dating during separation is not necessarily adultery in MA. Adultery involves sexual intercourse between a spouse and another individual who is not that person’s spouse.
How does adultery affect divorce in MA?
Adultery may affect divorce in MA if the affair significantly impacts either the marital finances or a parent’s ability to effectively care for a child.
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