Adultery counts in determining spousal support, Virginia appeals court rules

A wife’s adultery didn’t cause a Virginia couple’s divorce, but it can be used to determine whether she should get spousal support, according to an opinion issued by the commonwealth’s court of appeals.

When Julia Karabaic-Chaney filed for divorce from Jacob Chaney in September 2017 in Chesterfield County, Virginia, he never raised the issue of his wife’s alleged adultery during their marriage.

So, his wife filed and was granted a motion to exclude all evidence of an extramarital affair “for any purpose at any deposition, hearing[,] or trial.”

Karabaic-Chaney was granted a divorce, an equitable distribution of property, and Chaney was ordered to pay child support and wife spousal support “in the amount of $45,000 payable over five years in monthly installments of $750 per month.”

But the husband appealed, saying the judge should have taken her adultery into consideration in determining whether she was entitled to spousal support — and the Court of Appeals of Virginia agreed.

“Here, husband does not contend that evidence of wife’s adultery was relevant and admissible to establish a grounds for divorce,” the court wrote in its Jan. 14 ruling.

Karabaic-Chaney had argued the court in Chesterfield County was correct in not considering spousal support unless adultery was expressly pleaded, but the appeals court said no.

State statute “commands a court to consider evidence of adultery when awarding spousal support, even if the proponent of the evidence did not plead adultery as a ground for divorce or as an affirmative defense,” according to the opinion written by Judge Mary Grace O’Brien.

In reversing and sending the case back to Chesterfield County, it is unclear whether Karabaic-Chaney will be eligible for spousal support.

According to the appeals court opinion, a court is mandated to consider “the respective degrees of fault during the marriage” when determining if a person who engaged in adultery should be entitled to spousal support because of the exceptional financial hardship.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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