adultery | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Adultery refers to a sexual relationship between a married person and a person that is not that person’s spouse.

Adultery, in the criminal law context, refers to the act of engaging in sexual relations with a person other than one’s spouse. It is considered a criminal offense in some jurisdictions and can result in legal penalties, such as fines or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense and the laws of the jurisdiction in which it occurs.

The legal definition of adultery varies between jurisdictions and may be defined differently in different cultures or legal systems. In general, however, adultery is considered a breach of marital obligations and a violation of the social and moral expectations associated with marriage.

Adultery is typically considered a crime when it is committed by a married person, as it is seen as a betrayal of the trust and commitment that are implicit in the marriage contract. It is also seen as a breach of the marital duty of fidelity, which is a legal obligation that spouses have to remain faithful to each other.

In some jurisdictions, adultery is considered a criminal offense even if both parties are consenting adults. This is because the offense is seen as a violation of the social norms and expectations associated with marriage rather than a violation of individual rights.

The penalties for adultery vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the offense. In some jurisdictions, adultery may be punished by a fine or imprisonment, while in others, it may be treated as a civil offense, with the offending spouse being liable for damages or other legal consequences.

It is important to note that the criminalization of adultery is not universally accepted or practiced. In many countries and jurisdictions, adultery is not considered a criminal offense, and it is not uncommon for couples to engage in extramarital affairs without legal consequences.

In addition to the criminal penalties associated with adultery, there may also be social and personal consequences for those involved in such activities. Adultery can lead to the breakdown of marriages, the loss of custody of children, and the loss of social status and reputation.

Adultery is considered illegal in some jurisdictions within the United States. However, the criminalization of adultery is not consistent across all states and is often considered a controversial issue.

Currently, 21 states in the US have laws criminalizing adultery on their books, but the enforcement of these laws is rare. In some states, adultery is only considered a crime when it is committed in conjunction with other illegal activities, such as prostitution or domestic violence. In other states, the penalties for adultery can range from fines to imprisonment, although these penalties are rarely enforced.

The states that currently have laws criminalizing adultery on their books include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

It is worth noting that the constitutionality of criminalizing it has been challenged in several court cases. The Supreme Court of the United States has held that laws criminalizing private, consensual sexual conduct between adults, including adultery, are unconstitutional. In the landmark case of Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law criminalizing same-sex sexual activity, stating that “the state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”

Overall, while some US jurisdictions have laws criminalizing adultery, their enforcement is rare, and the constitutionality of such laws has been called into question.


[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 04/29/2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.