But in some places around the world, cheating also has legal consequences like monetary fines or even jail time.
Places where the law is influenced by religion – like in some Middle Eastern countries that abide by Sharia, or Islamic law – tend to use legal punishments including imprisonment, fines, and exile, for acts of infidelity.
Even in the United States, seven states allow for a person who was cheated on to take the situation to civil court.
Here are those states, and what can happen to residents who are unfaithful.
South Dakota is one of several U.S. states that still has medieval “alienation of affections” laws that allow a married person who was cheated on to sue the “other” man or woman with whom their partner had an affair.
The rule was created during the 17th century as part of English common law, when women were considered men’s property.
Under an alienation of affections law, the prosecutor doesn’t have to prove their partner had sex with another person, just that they were engaged in an extramarital relationship that caused them to receive less love and attention than if the affair didn’t occur.
In 2002, South Dakota made the law gender neutral, so women could sue the “other” woman. Prior to that, men were only allowed to sue men who had partaken in affairs with their wives.
These types of lawsuits can result in fines, and in 2002, one surgeon had to pay $400,000 for sleeping with a married woman, according to the Argus Leader, a local newspaper.
New Mexico also has an alienation of affections law.
Most cases are difficult to prove and don’t result in actual prosecution of the cheater.
“It was accepted that ‘a free and democratic society must tolerate certain offensive conduct as well as some obnoxious or morally deviant behavior’ and that application of the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, or outrage, should be limited to only the most exceptional circumstances,” New Mexico District Judge Alan M. Malott wrote in a 2010 Albuquerque Business Journal article about the shortcomings of the law.
In Mississippi, “alienation of affections” is often used to take an unfaithful spouse to court, even to this day.
The state passed this law in 1926, and it can be cited whenever a spouse feels they were “wrongly deprived of the services, companionship, and consortium of their spouse because another person willfully interferes with the marital relationship,” according to Mississippi family and divorce law firm Danks, Miller & Cory.
In these cases, like in other states, money is awarded if the third party is found to be guilty. The jury decides an appropriate amount of money the plaintiff should receive for damages, like lost affection or companionship.
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