Does an Affair Impact the Outcome Of Divorce?

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JEFF BEZOS’ ALLEGED AFFAIR MAY BE THE CAUSE OF HIS DIVORCE FROM HIS WIFE, MACKENZIE

On January 9, 2019, Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, announced on twitter that they are getting divorced after 25 years of marriage and having four children. As you most probably know, Jeff Bezos is the CEO of Amazon, and sits on top of the Forbes’ world billionaires ranking. Since it is reported that there was no prenuptial agreement between Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos and Amazon was founded a year after they tied the knot, the billionaire’s soon to be ex-wife stands to gain as much as $66 billion based on the value of the company to date, according to CNBC. What may complicate matters even worse is that Jeff Bezos is alleged to be having an ongoing affair with Lauren Sanchez, former “Extra” host and wife of Hollywood mega-agent Patrick Whitesell. The question on everyone’s mind is will the Affair complicate matters at all when it comes to the outcome of their divorce?

Most articles currently discussing the divorce of Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos are only focusing on how much money and property they will be arguing over and that there is no prenup to temper how far the spouses can go in their negotiations. Most likely, they will both have their teams of lawyers haggle over everything and come up with a private agreement between themselves settling all of their differences. However, what no one is really considering is if the affair will have any impact on the outcome of the divorce.  

Even though I believe most divorces are not caused by either party having an affair, I can’t even count how many times over the last 15 years of being a divorce attorney in New York and New Jersey, that I have had to say to the spouse telling me all about their soon to be ex-spouse’s affair, “No one cares!” Of course, I do not mean “NO ONE” cares, I mean that the court puts little, if any, weight on one spouse’s affair being the cause of the divorce in their ultimate decisions regarding who gets what from the marriage. While news of an affair, if it was news to Mackenzie at all, may heighten feelings of anger and betrayal making negotiations that much more acrimonious, the fact itself that one party had an affair typically makes no difference towards the legal outcome of a divorce.

Of course, the bearing adultery has on the divorce proceedings and outcomes thereof varies from state to state. Each jurisdiction and, I believe from my experience, each judge places different weight on the allegations of one spouse having an affair. In both New York and New Jersey, Adultery is still listed in the statutes as a ground for divorce. However, both New York and New Jersey are no fault states when it comes to divorce. This means you do not need to plead and prove adultery in order to get a divorce and the court’s rarely concern themselves with the cause of divorce or rather, which spouse is at fault for the divorce. In both states, you simply must claim irreconcilable differences for at least six months with no possibility of reconciliation to get a divorce. It is my understanding that in Community Property states, such as California, where each spouse gets 50% of the property and assets, they are not allowed to take fault into account.

While I typically advise individuals that adultery is a non-issue to the courts when making their ultimate decisions in the divorce proceeding, for those looking to make their spouse pay for their misconduct, there are some instances when I do believe you can do just that and that the affair can be of concern and considered by the court when it comes to any state.

DIVISION OF PROPERTY & THE ARGUMENT OF DISSIPATION

One spouse can claim that the other dissipated assets by spending exorbitant amounts of money on his or her alleged lover. For example, if the spouse alleged to be having an affair purchased expensive jewelry, hotel rooms, airline tickets, show tickets, lavish or consistent meals, or paid for other large expenses for their mistress during the marriage, they can be considered to have dissipated assets. Both New York and New Jersey are Equitable Distribution states. Therefore, property and assets are not necessarily split 50/50. Rather, the court determines, if the parties do not come to a settlement, what division of property and assets would be equitable or fair. When making a dissipation claim, the spouse needs to prove the money was spent for non-marital purposes during the marriage and/or that the money was spent at the time or during the time of the breakdown of the marriage.

As in many cases, when the divorce begins, we subpoena all financial records that are not provided to us during the discovery process of the divorce. Very often, high expenditures for mystery gifts, travel, meals, and hotels are the first expenditures that jump out at us. As is the case in most no-fault states, one spouse’s misconduct is not admissible to determine the ultimate disposition of property, or in other words, how that property is divided. The court may allocate the property to offset the dissipation. Therefore, the spouse having squandered their money on their new boyfriend or girlfriend will get less in property and other assets to make up for that amount which the court found was in fact dissipated.  

I doubt that the divorce of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos will ever get to court, but his expenditures on Lauren, may impact how much money MacKenzie ultimately gets. According to Page Six of The Post, it is reported that Jeff and Lauren took couple’s trips to famed Beauty Park Spa in California, spent months “enjoying trysts across the country including romantic hikes and five-star hotel hideaways, intimate dinners and flying in his $65 million private jet. While for Jeff Bezos paying an extra billion may be a drop in the bucket, much of his assets are non-liquid and figuring out how to give her what she deserves will reportedly still leave him feeling the sting of his actions. This may be all the more reason for her to use his misdeeds against him in negotiating a much higher settlement.

It should be cleared up that, while I stated that dissipation applies to large amounts of money, the court can find dissipation for any amount of money spent for non-marital purposes or in anticipation of divorce. However, in most cases, considering the amount of money one would have to spend in legal fees and expenses proving minimal expenditures, the effort would not be worth it in the long run.

CUSTODY AND PARENTING TIME

While cheating still carries a level of stigma with it to some judges, in most cases cheating in and of itself will not be a consideration of the court when making custody and parenting time decisions. That being said, divorce is a huge stress on both the children and the spouse even when one spouse has not caused the divorce by cheating. When one spouse’s infidelity is the reason for the divorce it can put the entire family into even greater turmoil than the typical divorce. Therefore, when the affair is contributing to the decline of the children’s mental well-being, their home life, stability, or when the cheating spouse is putting his or her needs before the children, i.e., by forcing the children to spend time with the cheating spouse’s new love interest, the court may take the affair into considering when making such decisions.

The court’s job is to protect the well-being and safety of the children. They must ensure their custody and parenting time decisions are in the best interest of the children. Therefore, the court often takes into consideration the character and fitness of the spouse’s new love interest. In most divorce cases where infidelity of one spouse is the cause of the divorce, the spouse getting cheated on does not want their children around the man or women they see as home wrecker. Their negative feelings must be considered by the court when the children’s best interest is in question. However, it must be understood that upon divorce each spouse is allowed to move on, have new relationships and make their own decisions on how to live their life.

Jeff Bezos and his soon to be ex-wife are parents to four children: three sons, and one daughter adopted from china, they range in age from seven to twelve years old. It shall remain to be seen how the affair will affect their custody and parenting time rights, but it seems unlikely that his infidelity will have any bearing on such issues at all. According to most news stories and reports, they have always been and are still a very close-knit family, and I am sure that they will work out the appropriate parenting plan and arrangements between themselves in the best interest of their children.

While you may not be able to keep your spouse’s new love interest away from the children, your spouse’s actions towards your children, the children’s receptiveness towards the other man or women, or any worries and concerns you may have about that that person, if substantiated or serious enough, will be taken into account by the court.

Whenever the world’s wealthiest person is in the news, especially when it is due to divorce as a result of a steamy love affair, it is of interest to everyone what the outcome will be, how ugly it will get, and will the affair itself play any role. However, I am sure the divorce and true facts surrounding the outcome will be kept tightly under wraps and regardless of how much property or money either spouse receives both will continue to live their lives in opulence long after the ink on their divorce papers is dry.

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