Adultery.  Now I have your attention. 

As a leading divorce attorney and family law mediator for 30 years, I have to say that in almost all the divorce cases that I have been involved in, one or both of the parties has cheated on the other. The fact is, happily married people aren’t the ones who cheat. It is the people who have been unhappy, usually for years, but haven’t worked up the courage or found the strength to end the relationship, who will drift along in the marriage until suddenly, someone else comes along. Then BOOM: adultery, lying, accusations and then . . . DIVORCE.

The secrecy is hard to maintain though and usually, the cheater eventually gets caught and trust me, that is NEVER pretty (Oh, the stories I have heard in my 30 years!) The alternative to being found out is when the cheater thinks that their new paramour is THE ONE and so they decide it’s time to tell the spouse and move on.  There is another conversation that usually doesn’t go well.  It doesn’t matter which scenario happens, the end result is never good for the kids and there are a few reasons why.

Here’s all the reasons why the cheating hurts your kids and what YOUR role is in this.

First, is the most obvious. The betrayal of the cheating, lying and sneaking around causes such a breach of trust between the spouses that the emotional content between them goes nuclear.  Often, the level of acrimony between the parents will go from being apathetic or cordial and enter the stratosphere of contentious.  This creates a poor situation for the kids because at a time when they most need their parents to be a team, those parents couldn’t be further apart and are locked in a struggle to hurt each other.  It’s pretty hard to talk about why your son isn’t doing well in math class when you want to eviscerate your cheating spouse.

The next reason is that conflict is one of the biggest predictors for children having difficulty during the divorce and after. It doesn’t matter what the conflict is about, just conflict is harmful and, well, it would be hard to think of something that would create more conflict that lying, cheating and adultery in a marriage!

The final and often biggest reason, it’s that the parent who was cheated on will almost always make the emotional conclusion that the cheating parent, who is admittedly, a BAD SPOUSE, is also a BAD PARENT.  I have heard the argument many times from clients who say that the parent chose to have an affair and thereby “broke up the family.”  That choice they argue, means that the cheater is a bad parent.

Here’s the thing . . .

The problem for that logic is, that it is very often not true.  There are many reasons why someone chooses to cheat, but rarely does it have anything to do with parenting.  In most of the case that I have seen, both parents, cheater and cheated on alike, are good people, who love their kids and want what’s best for them.

And therein lies the problem.  For the parent who has determined that the cheater is both a bad spouse and a BAD PARENT, they fight to limit the cheating parent’s time with the kids to “protect them.”  This immediately increases the already tense dynamic because nothing will get someone worked up faster than trying to take their kids away.

The Unending Conflict Cycle of Betrayal.

It goes on and on with one parent is fighting for an unreasonable parenting plan while the other is viscerally reacting to the threat to their relationship with their kids.  It is a conflict cycle that the traditional divorce litigation system only exacerbates.  Who is caught in the middle of this war?  The kids. The ones whose parents are fighting so hard to protect their differing versions of what is best for the children.  The fact is, most therapists I have spoken with say that what is in the best interests of the children, is to have a strong, healthy relationship with both their parents and have regular, continuous and frequent contact with both.

When cheating has caused World War III to erupt between the parents, the divorce is sure to drag out, be an ongoing battle and the communication and relationship between the co-parents will almost always get even worse over the course of the divorce so by the time it is “settled”, the parents are divided, the kids are stressed, and a parenting plan that no one is very happy with is in place.

The Solution is in Your Control.

I set this out as a cautionary tale.  Take it from a veteran of the divorce wars, you must love your kids more than you hate your ex, no matter what they did.  So when it comes time to sit down and work out a parenting plan with your kid’s other parent, put aside your feelings for them as a failed marriage partner, and remember that they are 50% of your children’s DNA and they probably love your kids as much as you do.  Be reasonable and really put your kid’s first and figure something out that lets them have both of their parents.  Oh, and don’t cheat. End your marriage with a little dignity and respect.  It will go a long way for your kids.