Adultery prosecutions - outside of divorce actions

I’m doing some writing and I need to determine whether there’s been any prosecutions in the United States for adultery in the last 20 years or so.

Not in terms of divorce. In my state - according to my divorce attorney - being caught in adultery simply means that the adulterer essentially loses custody, property and such. At least the judge can rule so and it’s used by attorneys locally to pursue an advantageous approach to divorce complaints.

But actual, honest-to-God criminal prosecutions for adultery. Not bigamy, which can be seen as a form of fraud, but adultery. A married person having sexy times with someone not their spouse. Is it criminal in any state? Was it? If so, is there anywhere it’s still prosecuted?

Inquiring minds want to know.


I’d bet any amount of money that the most frequent adultery prosecutions are military. It is a criminal offense in the UCMJ and the military does take it seriously.

The last one I’d heard about was similar to that quoted: a police officer, and a prosecutor who didn’t want police officers seen to be breaking the law.

A crime? Yes, in 19 States including Maryland:

"Under Maryland law, someone found guilty of adultery is convicted of a misdemeanor, but the other penalty associated with the crime is rather odd — offenders have to simply pay a $10 fine.

“In my 28 years of practice, I have never, ever, had a client charged with it or been in a case where anyone was charged with it,” said Dumais, a lawyer who concentrates on family law with the firm Ethridge, Quinn, Kemp, McAuliffe, Rowan & Hartinger, in Rockville.

According to Maryland records, at least three people were charged with adultery last year.

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender said it has handled five adultery cases over the past eight years. The adultery offense was not the primary charge in each case, the office said.

Adultery is a crime in 19 states: Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Minnesota, Arizona, Mississippi, Florida, New York, Georgia, Oklahoma, Idaho, Rhode Island, Illinois, South Carolina, Kansas, Utah, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Michigan."

I was going to recommend the military route. Adultery is often punished criminally in the military. Not always, but often enough to be believable and readily accepted in your story. You may not be able to work this into your story, but it’s an option.

As previously pointed out, it is a crime in the military. One that I’ve seen prosecuted when I was in the army. In ID, not only is the spouse commiting a crime, but the lover can also be charged with adultery

Too late for the edit, the prosecution for adultery that I encountered does not fall within your 20 year window.

I’m actually working on a presentation about such, not really a story. And the 20 year window is advisory. I suppose I’m trying to figure out what sort of criminal exposure is out there for adultery and the potential consequences of such.

In regards to military prosecutions for adultery (although this isn’t quite that), you might consider the case of David Petraeus. He was a four-star general who became the director of the CIA. It came out that he had an affair with Paula Broadwell, who wrote a biography of him. He resigned soon after it came out. It’s considered important that a person in such a position can’t be subject to blackmail.

In the late 1990s/early 2000s, a man pled guilty to adultery in West Virginia (our law was repealed in 2010). I don’t have a cite, but it was big news at the time.

However, I am not sure if it meets your criteria as it was a plea agreement in which he was originally charged with bigamy. From my recollection, he believed he was divorced some years prior; he had signed an order for the judge to enter, but his wife refused. The whole thing then got lost in the court system, but it was clear that he was never legally divorced from his 1st wife. He then years later married someone else and the 1st wife demanded that he be charged with bigamy.

After an investigation, it was believed that although the guy should have followed through which his divorce in a more complete manner, the state believed that a felony conviction was not appropriate, but the 1st wife would not let it go. So he plead to misdemeanor adultery.

Sure but a 4 star general being blackmailed is not a common occurrence and not the reason why it’s illegal in the military. Adultery is considered to be conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. And it is. I’ve seen small units fall apart when PFC Snuffy is sleeping with the wife of SPC Smith.

Something similar happened on our local CFL team, when there were rumours that a noted ball carrier was sleeping with the wife of one of the O-line guys.

Suddenly, whenever the ball carrier had the ball, the O-line was incredibly porous and he kept getting hit, hard, by the defence.

Not good for the team overall, but they weren’t having that good a season anyway that year.

He also gave his lover unauthorized access to classified material. That was the bigger deal.

She doesn’t have the power to not let it go. Couldn’t the prosecutor just decline to charge him? Who cares what she thinks?

No cite (sorry:)). But in Michigan a while back, some man was charged with some sex crime. And he was found guilty of adultery as a lesser included.

As I said, it appeared on the local news a while back. So I have no cite. But it’s an interesting application of the adultery charge.

As already pointed out, adultery is illegal in Michigan. Also, I don’t know if anyone is interested. But incest is only illegal prior to the age 18. I have no idea how that law is enforced.


In theory you are right. In practice, prosecutors are elected and look our for “their victims.”

Still a misdmeanor in NY

Here’s a newspaper article. Eventually, the adultery charge was dropped and she took a plea to “public lewdness”. She wouldn’t have been charged with adultery if she had been committing adultery in a hotel room (there wouldn’t have been sufficient evidence) - but having sex on a picnic bench in a public park at 5 pm is going to result in witnesses.

I served as a 15-6 Investigating Officer for an adultery charge under the UCMJ in 2012. It’s really hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to conduct nonjudicial punishment under Article 15 or take it to court martial. There’s two major elements. One is that you have to show an effect on good order and discipline since it’s under Article 134. I had that evidence. Proving intercourse beyond a reasonable doubt is the hard one to do. The woman he’d been having the affair with said she did; he said they didn’t.

I did find enough to give more weight to her story and determine that more likely than not adultery had happened. Finding it involved things like looking at pictures that showed more than his claims about the relationship but not intercourse. That allowed other administrative actions but not a court martial. Since it wasn’t the first adultery case the pattern of misbehavior also allowed me to recommend an admin discharge hearing.

He did end up being discharged from the military with about 17 1/2 years of service.

ETA - My girlfriend did enjoy my tale of having to dig through a bunch of penis pics for work.

Lawrence v. Texas would seem to hold these laws to be unconstitutional. Even in the situation described in the linked article, the harm to the public is not the adultery but the public lewd behavior. I don’t think the children seeing the acts by the couple were especially harmed by the (unknown to the children) fact that one the parties was married to another.