Sponsored Content – Adultery is many times cited as the legal basis for one spouse seeking divorce from another. In some states, proof of adultery can result in certain monetary benefits in division of the marital estate, and can, in some states, be grounds for a lawsuit against the non-spouse adulterer. As recently as 2017, North Carolina’s Court of Appeals held that “alienation of affection” – read: the non-spouse adulterer’s role in the divorce – can be grounds for civil liability.
But civil liability and criminal guilt are two very different things. In Maryland, as well as 18 other states, an individual can be criminally charged with adultery. A Maryland legislator has introduced a bill that would do away with that criminality, but the question remains, why was it ever a crime to begin with?
“The concept of “deterrence” is one of the theories behind why criminal guilt and punishment work,” said Seth Okin, a criminal law attorney with the law firm of Price Benowitz, LLP. “The idea is that the possibility that a person could be arrested, charged, convicted, and then punished, either with fines or jailtime deters some people who may, in the absence of such a law, carry out the criminal act in question. Remember reading The Scarlett Letter in high school? It is the same concept.”
The Scarlett Letter dealt with adultery in the 1600s. Laws that criminalize adultery are from a time when, some would argue, such activity was viewed very differently than it is today. Many of the States that have these laws on the books have not carried out a prosecution in decades. Maryland has only prosecuted five individuals under this law in the last eight years. The punishment for being found guilty of adultery? Ten dollars.
“Statutes like these are ones that can present problems for an individual charged and convicted, even if the initial punishment of $10 seems petty and not worth fighting,” said Okin. However, Okin explained, “it creates a conviction that shows up on background checks, requires disclosure on job applications, and could even present problems in future litigation.” Remember the discussion about alienation of affection? “Many civil courts allow criminal convictions to be used as evidence in litigation,” said Okin. “Having a spouse be able to use a criminal conviction of adultery against you in a lawsuit related to your divorce could be devastating.”
Okin said that if the law criminalizing adultery remains on the book, “individuals charged should never just ‘pay the fine’. It’s always best to consult with an attorney about the possible implications of a conviction.”
About the sponsor: Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney Seth Okin prides himself on his dedicated approach to every one of his cases. Attorney Okin has been recognized for his commitment with many awards including being named as one of the Nation’s Top One Percent by the National Association of Distinguished Counsel. This sponsored content is provided by Seth Okin Attorney at Law, with a focus on local and national issues.