Adultery and Affairs: Understanding the Basis for Divorce in Ontario

Adultery And Affairs

The only ground for divorce in Canada is the breakdown of a marriage.

This can be proven in three ways:

(1) The spouses have lived separate and apart for one year (no fault);

(2) The spouse against whom the divorce proceeding is brought has committed adultery (at fault);

(3) The spouse against whom the divorce proceeding is brought has treated the other spouse with physical or mental cruelty (at fault)

Important Considerations when Filing for Divorce on the Ground of Adultery:

  • The courts will require proof of exactly what occurred in order to prove the claim.
  • Mere suspicion of adultery is not enough to prove the claim.
  • A single act of adultery is a sufficient basis on which to bring a divorce action on this ground.
  • It does not matter how long the affair was going on.
  • The adultery must have occurred before the divorce application is brought.
  • In order to qualify as “adultery”, there must be an actual physical sexual relationship between one of the spouses and another individual.
  • The person who committed the adultery with the spouse does not have to be named.   However, if this person is named then he/she has to be provided with the application and he/she may choose to answer the application.


Impact of Adultery on Custody and Access

  • Past conduct of a parent is irrelevant in determinations of the issues of custody or access unless that conduct is relevant to the person’s ability to act as a parent to the child.
  • Adultery will not have any impact on child custody.


Impact of Adultery on Spousal Support

  • Adultery will have no impact on your entitlement to spousal support. For example, if you have been cheated on, you will not be entitled to obtain more money. Likewise, if you have cheated on your spouse, you will not have to pay more spousal support to your spouse as a result of your infidelity.

It is rare for family law practitioners to file for a divorce using the circumstance of adultery for the following reasons:

1) At fault divorces such as adultery and cruelty can be costly;

2) No further evidence is necessary when filing under the ground of living separate and apart, making this no fault basis more appealing;

3) It can take more than a year for the courts to decide the issue of adultery and by that time you may have already established the ground of living separate and apart for one year.

Gambling, Drinking and Affairs – Should Spouses Have to Account for their Misdeeds?

A case called Malandra v. Malandra, where the court found that – for the purposes of deciding whether their Net Family Property (NFP) should be unequally divided – the husband should not be held solely accountable for certain bad business investments.

This question of whether the NFP should be divided unequally comes up often: among other things courts must consider whether one of the spouses behaved in a manner that makes an even split unfair. Here are some of the categories of spousal misdeed that can come under the court’s scrutiny:

1. Reckless Investing

In a case called Lamantia v. Solarino, 2010 ONSC 2927, the question was whether the husband should be held accountable for deceit and various financial misconduct designed to hide his reckless investments in the stock market. He had forged the wife’s signature, and had borrowed from credit cards for which she became liable without her knowledge. He also took active steps to keep the wife from learning the true state of their financial affairs; for example, he made sure their bank statements were sent to another address. Furthermore, he continued to play the stock market even though the wife had asked him to stop. Those bad investments led to significant capital losses for the couple.

In finding that the NPF should not be equally divided, the court found that the husband had engaged in a pattern of deceit and engaged in conduct that made it unconscionable for the NFP to be divided equally.

2. Spending to Feed an Addiction

In a second case, Dillon v. Dillon, 2010 ONSC 5858, the husband was a severe alcoholic, who incurred debts to feed his alcohol addictions. He lost many jobs over the years, and took pains to hide the dire family financial circumstances from the wife, who was completely unaware.

Given that their financial circumstances were spurred by the husband’s need to incur debt to feed his addiction, the court found this was a situation completely out of the wife’s control. Because of his reckless behaviour, she had effectively contributed significantly more than the husband toward amassing their family assets which formed the NFP – for example a cottage worth $260,000, and RRSPs funds amounting to $150,000. She had also paid over $50,000 towards the husband’s debts in order to keep things afloat for the benefit of their children.

By concealing the extent and timing of his “financial perdition” (as the court called it), the husband deprived the wife of an opportunity to prevent his destructive behaviour, or to prepare herself for retirement. The court found that the husband had “taken advantage of the [wife’s] selfless act of placing herself in a position of vulnerability in the best interests of her children.” An unequal division of NFP was ordered.

3. Spending Money on an Affair Partner

Finally, in a case called Hutchings v. Hutchings (2001), 2001 CanLII 28130 (ON SC), 20 R.F.L. (5th) 83 (Ont. S.C.J.), the husband was engaged in an extra-marital affair, and used family money in to order to travel with his mistress to Europe and Quebec. The wife was suspicious, and accused the husband of spending money on not just this but other affairs as well; however she was never able to prove the allegations. In this case, the court also ordered that the husband had engaged in reckless and intentional depletion of the NFP and that there should be an unequal division.

Five Points About Adultery

One of the grounds on which divorce can be granted to spouses in Canada is that of adultery. For the most part, the concept is quite straightforward: “Adultery” for these purposes is precisely what most people think it would be.

However, from a Canadian legal standpoint there are some finer points that are worth mentioning, largely derived from cases that have been decided over the years. Here are the top five lesser-known points to know:

1. Adultery may occur if there is “[i]ntimate sexual activity outside of marriage may represent a violation of the marital bond and be devastating to the spouse and the marital bond regardless of the specific nature of the sexual act performed.”

2. A single act of sexual intercourse can amount to “adultery” for the purpose of divorce in Canada.

3. Adultery can occur with a same-sex partner.

4. An affidavit admitting to adultery with an unnamed party is sufficient for Divorce Act purposes.

5.  In the right circumstances, adultery can be condoned. For example, if out of love and a desire to make the marriage work one spouse takes back an adulterous cheating spouse, then he or she may not be able to ask for a divorce based on the earlier adultery. In this scenario, the innocent spouse may be considered to have condoned the adultery for divorce purposes.

Top 5 Questions About Adultery and Divorce in Ontario

It seems that celebrity gossip tabloids will never have a shortage of topics to cover, as long as there are stories about extramarital affairs by successful, high-profile celebrities. Most recently, it has been alleged that Arnold Schwartzenegger fathered a child with the housekeeper employed in the home he shared with his wife of 25 years; prior to that, Tiger Woods has admitted to having sexual trysts with at least 14 women outside of his relatively short marriage.

Leaving aside the intriguing question of how adultery affects couples psychologically and emotionally (and why such powerful, successful people would jeopardize their marital relationships in this manner), the legal effect of adultery is quite clear.

In Ontario (as elsewhere in Canada), the laws relating to divorce based on a adultery are governed by the federal Divorce Act, which provides that a “breakdown of a marriage is established only if the spouses have lived separate and apart for at least one year or the spouse against whom the divorce proceeding is brought has committed adultery or treated the other spouse with physical or mental cruelty.” (Note that it must be the other party who commits the act: a spouse cannot apply for a divorce based on his or her own adultery).

Adultery, then, is one of the established grounds for divorce in Canada. Questions often arise as to the whether the duration, extent or nature of the adultery matters when it comes to the right to obtain a divorce. Here are some common questions answered in this regard:

1. Does it matter how long the affair was going on?

No. Provided that it can be proven that adultery has been committed by one of the spouses, the other spouse can ask for a divorce. However, it should be noted that the adultery must have occurred before the petition for divorce is brought.

2. What if the extramarital sex occurred only a single time? What if the spouse is remorseful?

A single act of adultery is a sufficient basis on which to bring a divorce action. And technically speaking, as long as the adultery was committed by one of the spouses, the other spouse has legal grounds under the Divorce Act to proceed with a petition. Whether or not the spouse actually wants to do so, in light of prospects of forgiveness and reconciliation, will be a personal decision.

3. Do you need clear proof of an affair? Is it enough to suspect that something is going on?

In order to prove adultery, there is no prerequisite that the other spouse gets “caught in the act,” or that there be photos or other physical evidence of the affair. Instead – as with all civil actions – a court must be satisfied on a “preponderance” of credible evidence that adultery has taken place.

This can take place by inference, i.e. where the facts and circumstances lead to the reasonable conclusion that adultery has indeed taken place. However, a mere suspicion of adultery is not enough, nor is evidence that the other spouse had the opportunity to cheat. Also, there is no requirement that the party with whom the adultery is taking place must be named or identified.

Finally, it is the spouse who wants to bring the divorce action who must bring forward the convincing evidence that adultery actually took place. There is nothing unusual about the type of evidence required; however, the evidence will be considered sufficient if the adulterous spouse admits to the affair, or if the third party with whom the spouse is having the affair gives evidence attesting to the fact.

4. What if the husband had an affair with another man? Or the wife cheats with another woman? Does that count?

Yes. Historically, Canada’s Divorce Act defined adultery along the same lines as the former definition of “spouses”, which involved only people of the opposite sex. Adultery was similarly defined by the courts as consisting of voluntary sex outside of marriage, between a spouse and someone of the opposite gender.

However, both the definition of “spouse” and the concept of adultery has been expanded by the courts to encompass same-sex relationships.

5. What about cheating over the Internet?

In order to qualify as “adultery”, there must be an actual, physical sexual relationship between one of the spouses and a third party to the marriage. Phone sex and other forms of sexually-charged activity – if conducted “from a distance”, so to speak – do not generally qualify as “adultery” as that term is used in the Divorce Act.

Although these cases are often interesting and quite sad, for most family law practioners in Ontario these circumstances do not form the basis for thier clients’ divorce claims. The Court does not want spouses to focus on fault and blame but rather resolution.

For the most part, blame does not improve or diminish one’s property rights or entitlement to share family property in Ontario. And the practical reality is that an Application for divorce based on cruelty or adultery may take a few years before the matter is finally determined if a full hearing is required. If this is the case then the party seeking the divorce could also likely rely on the fact that s/he has lived separate and apart for one year and use this as the basis for the divorce claim.


10 Things Your Should Know About Divorce

1. The Difference Between Separation and Divorce

A separation occurs when one or both spouses decide to live apart with the intention of not living together again. Once you are separated, you may need to discuss custody, access and child support with your spouse. You may also need to work out issues dealing with spousal support and property. You can resolve these issues in different ways:

• You can negotiate a separation agreement. A separation agreement is a legal document signed by both spouses which details the arrangements on which you have agreed. In some jurisdictions, independent legal advice is required to make the document legally binding.

• You can make an application to the court to set up custody, access, support and property arrangements under the provincial or territorial laws that apply to you.

• You can come to an informal agreement with your spouse. However, if one party decides not to honour the agreement, you will have no legal protection.

2. How To Legally End a Marriage

To legally end your marriage, you need a divorce, which is an order signed by a judge under the federal law called the Divorce Act.

3. How to Separate From Your Spouse If You Were Never Legally Married

What if we were never legally married?

If you are not legally married, divorce does not apply to you. However, you can still negotiate a separation agreement or make an application to the court under the laws in your province or territory to set up custody, access, child support and other arrangements. Common-law spouses have fewer rights upon separation than married couples.

4. Divorce Proceedings

The marriage is not over until a judge grants you a divorce order at the end of the process.

Before you begin divorce proceedings, you may wish to consider whether marriage counseling could help you and your spouse. Once you have started formal divorce proceedings, you may stop the process at any time if you and your spouse wish to think about reconciling.

5. Who Can Apply for a Divorce in Canada

You can apply for a divorce in Canada if:

• you were legally married in Canada or in any other country; and

• you intend to separate permanently from your spouse and believe there is no chance you will get back together, or you have already left your spouse and do not intend to get back together; and

• either or both of you have lived in the Canadian province or territory for at least one year immediately before applying for a divorce in that province or territory.

6. Who is to Blame

Do I need a reason to get a divorce?

To get a divorce, you will have to show that your marriage has broken down. The law says marriage breakdown has occurred if:

• you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for one year with the idea that your marriage is over; or

• your spouse has committed adultery and you have not forgiven your spouse; or

• your spouse has been physically or mentally cruel to you, making it unbearable to continue living together. Cruelty may include acts of physical violence and those causing severe mental anguish.

You can get a divorce if one of these situations applies to you.

7. Proving Who is Responsible

Do I have to prove that my spouse is responsible for our marriage breakdown?

Under the Divorce Act, you do not need to prove that your spouse was at fault in order to get a divorce. If the reason you are asking for a divorce is marriage breakdown, shown by one year of living apart, either of you can request a divorce. It does not matter which one of you decided to leave. In fact, the law gives you the choice of applying to the court together to ask for a divorce.

However, if the reason you are asking for a divorce is marriage breakdown because of adultery or mental or physical cruelty, you will have to have proof of what happened.

8. How to Get Started

How do I start a divorce application?

It is always advisable when starting a divorce application to speak to a lawyer knowledgeable about family law. A lawyer can tell you exactly how the law applies to your situation and how to protect your rights. You can then decide what to do.

• To start a divorce application, you fill out the appropriate forms for your province or territory. If you have a lawyer, he or she will fill out the forms for you and will be responsible for processing the divorce. You may obtain forms at government bookstores, some private bookstores and, in some cases, from the Internet. In some jurisdictions, court offices and information centers provide forms.

• There are a few things in particular that you have to include in the forms. If there is a child of the marriage, you need to write down the parenting arrangements, including financial support. If these arrangements are in dispute, you will need to describe the arrangements that you are seeking.

• Once you have completed all the forms, you file them at the courthouse, pay the required court fees, and follow the court rules and procedures for your province or territory.

9. Giving the Your Marriage a Second Chance

What if I apply for a divorce and then try to live with my spouse again?

Before or after you have applied for a divorce on the ground of one-year separation, you can live together for up to 90 days for the purposes of reconciliation. If things don’t work out, you can continue your action for a divorce as if you had not spent this time together.

What happens if my spouse and I agree on all the issues raised by the divorce?

10. When Both You and Your Spouse Want a Divorce

If you and your spouse agree on all issues, you have an uncontested divorce.