Adultery is a term used in legal contexts to denote the act of a married person engaging in sexual relations or a sexual relationship with someone other than their spouse while still legally married.

The legal definition and consequences of infidelity can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another, and in some places, may not be specifically addressed in the law.

In this article, we will explore the legal definition of adultery, its historical context, its treatment in different legal systems, and the potential legal consequences associated with it.


Legal Definitions of Adultery

An extramarital affair, as a legal concept, primarily revolves around the breach of the marital contract. It involves one spouse engaging in sexual activity with someone who is not their lawful spouse.

The act of infidelity is often regarded as a breach of the marital covenant or contract, leading to legal consequences in some jurisdictions. However, it’s important to note that the definition of it and the consequences for it can vary widely.

Historical Context

The legal treatment of affairs have a long history, dating back to ancient civilizations such as the Roman Empire and biblical times.

In many historical contexts, they were considered a moral and legal offense, often leading to severe penalties, including fines, imprisonment, or even death.

The severity of punishments have lessened significantly in many modern legal systems, reflecting changing societal norms and values.

Legal Treatment of Adultery Worldwide

United States: Adultery laws in the United States vary by state, and some states have repealed or effectively abolished their adultery statutes. In states where it remains a crime, it is typically classified as a misdemeanor, although prosecutions are rare. However, this can still be a factor in divorce proceedings, affecting issues such as alimony or property division.

United Kingdom: Adultery is not a criminal offense in the UK, and it is no longer a ground for divorce. However, it can be cited as a reason for divorce if one party can prove that the affair has caused irreparable damage to the marriage.

India: Adultery was considered a criminal offense in India until 2018 when the Supreme Court of India ruled that it should no longer be considered a crime. The court held that it is a matter of privacy between consenting adults.

Saudi Arabia: Adultery is illegal and considered a serious crime in Saudi Arabia, with severe penalties, including flogging, imprisonment, and even death in some cases.

France: Adultery is not a criminal offense in France, and it does not affect divorce proceedings. France has a no-fault divorce system, where divorce can be granted without assigning blame to either party.

South Korea: Adultery was considered a criminal offense in South Korea until 2015 when the Constitutional Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional. As a result, it is no longer a crime in South Korea.

Pakistan: Adultery is illegal under Pakistan’s Penal Code, and those found guilty can face imprisonment and fines.

Nigeria: Adultery is considered a crime in many parts of Nigeria, and it is often subject to strict Islamic law (Sharia) in certain regions, where the punishment may include flogging or stoning.

Legal Consequences of Adultery

The legal consequences of adultery can vary widely based on the jurisdiction and the specific laws in place. Here are some potential legal consequences:

Divorce: In many legal systems, it can be grounds for divorce. It may affect issues such as property division, alimony (spousal support), and child custody arrangements.

Criminal Penalties: In some jurisdictions, an affair is considered a criminal offense, and individuals found guilty can face fines, imprisonment, or even corporal punishment or death, depending on the severity of the offense and the local laws.

Civil Lawsuits: In some cases, the injured spouse may sue the adulterous party for damages, claiming that the adulterous relationship caused emotional distress or financial harm.

Alimony and Property Division: Infidelity can be a factor considered by the court when determining alimony or spousal support payments, as well as the division of marital property.

Child Custody: Adultery may be considered when making decisions about child custody and visitation arrangements, with the court assessing whether the extramarital relationship has had a detrimental impact on the child’s well-being.

Challenges and Evolving Views

The legal treatment of an extramarital affair is evolving in many countries as societal attitudes change.

Many legal systems are moving away from criminalizing adultery and focusing on no-fault divorce laws that do not require proof of fault or wrongdoing to grant a divorce.

This shift reflects a broader trend toward recognizing personal autonomy and privacy rights.


Adultery, the act of a married person engaging in sexual relations or a sexual relationship with someone other than their spouse, has been a subject of legal consideration for centuries.

The legal definition and consequences of infidelity vary widely across jurisdictions, with some countries criminalizing it, while others have decriminalized or deprioritized it in favor of no-fault divorce systems.

In many modern legal systems, adultery may still be a factor in divorce proceedings, affecting issues such as alimony, property division, and child custody.

As societal values and norms continue to evolve, so too may the legal treatment of adultery in various parts of the world.