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My Ex Cheated, but I Forgave Her. Will I Owe Alimony?

Dear Carolyn,

My wife had an affair, and because I wanted to save the marriage for the children, I forgave her. That was about ten years ago.  Now, it is really not working, and I want out.  The last child has finished high school.  She spends too much money and she will not find a job.  She says I owe her alimony if I leave.  She has the same college degree I do.  Can she get alimony?  What about her affair?

I tried, but….just can’t do it any more….


Dear “I tried,”

Theoretically, your wife may get alimony if you are the supporting spouse and she is the dependent spouse.  However, there is some good news for you in this answer.  First, I do want to explain the doctrine of condonation.  Also, please note that I use “adultery,” “affair,” and “illicit sexual misconduct” interchangeably in this answer. The official language in the alimony statutes is now “illicit sexual misconduct.”

In family law, condonation means forgiveness.  So you condoned the affair with your forgiveness; otherwise, an affair (illicit sexual misconduct) is a bar to alimony. “Bar” means absolute barrier.  So, unless you were also guilty of an affair, you would not have paid her alimony if you had left when she had the affair ten years ago. But, the forgiveness now makes you vulnerable for paying alimony.  Now for the good news!

In the recent Charlotte case of Ellis vs. Ellis, the trial judge considered the wife’s past adultery (although forgiven by the husband) as a factor in setting the amount and duration of alimony. The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed (agreed with) the Charlotte judge, so now we have guidance on how to use forgiven adultery in cases.

In Ellis, the wife called herself a “bored housewife” as justification for the affair and had an affair with a professional hockey player. This “bored housewife” certainly should not have used these words with the judge. When testifying, select your words carefully. The Charlotte judge only gave her two years of alimony, enough for letting her find a suitable job, but not long enough to reward her for her conduct. Hopefully, this will cure her boredom.

You are also going to be able to use that fact, that your wife is a spendthrift, against her. Tell her “Ask Carolyn” says:  Get a job!


Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427.  Please do not put identifying information in your questions. 

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This blog is revised from a previous Ask Carolyn in The Rhino Times.

Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”