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Can Divorce Be Caused By False Accusations of Adultery?

Jessica Luna

Jan 1, 2022

My Spouse Accused Me of Cheating, But I Didn’t

Can Divorce Be Caused By False Accusations of Adultery?

Have you been wrongly accused of cheating on your spouse? Is trust lacking in your Tennessee marriage? Is talk of divorce creeping into the mix? When a husband repeatedly demands to know who his wife is cheating with and then calls her a “liar” if she persistently denies the charge, the situation should be taken seriously. False accusations of infidelity, adultery, or cheating on any level erode trust and can destroy a marriage if not dealt with. Divorce could result, regardless of whether those baseless allegations come from the husband or the wife.

My spouse accused me of cheating, but I didn’t.

The Kid Looks Like the Milk Man

Remember the old joke about the wife’s affair with the milk man? (“The kid looks more like the milk man than his dad.”) The joke is revived in the 2003 film Big Fish wherein the dying protagonist, a gifted storyteller, recalls past dreams predicting the deaths of various people. In one dream, he foresaw his father’s death within 24 hours which caused his dad great worry. The milk man died the next day. The point is, unfounded suspicions of infidelity have swirled around otherwise peaceable, decent households for a very long time. Why do so many people accuse their partners of cheating in the absence of concrete evidence?

Swinging the Pendulum from Friendship to Romance

An extra-marital relationship with someone of the opposite sex may seem innocent in one spouse’s eyes, yet appear adulterous in the other’s. Consider the married woman who joins her male associate for cocktails after work. He is someone with whom she feels comfortable discussing just about anything as they have a strong friendship and much in common. She describes the relationship as simply between friends; that her flirtatious behavior “doesn’t mean anything.” So as not to upset her husband, though, she offers up a lie saying she’s “meeting friends after work” when, in fact, she has a date to meet only this one man. Her husband is suspicious and accuses her of cheating. Do her actions rise to the level of infidelity?

Dr. Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., distinguishes a casual friendship from an emotional affair, and from a romantic affair (which is cheating). He says emotional affairs offering deeper feelings do not necessarily evolve into romantic relationships. A romantic affair is one that has sexual overtones, is secretive, would damage the marriage if it became known, is intentionally hidden to avoid discovery, is carried on because something is missing from the marriage (for which the other spouse is typically blamed), and sustains a “pattern of lying, deception, and manipulation.”

Wrongly Accused of Cheating: Will Divorce Follow Erosion of Trust in the Marriage?

Cheating: emotional vs. physical attachment.

Whenever a couple stumbles on that bumpy road to love, they should at least discuss marriage counseling before separating or deciding on divorce. Of course, the accusing spouse might refuse counseling, set in his or her mind that cheating means the marriage is finished. The accused spouse might reject marital counseling because the accuser has caused so much emotional pain (or worse). For both, the erosion of trust may be impossible to overcome.

If the first option, marriage counseling, is not realistic, then consider the second option – individual counseling. Even an innocent spouse could fall into a pattern of self-blame: “Why does she think I’ve been unfaithful to her when I haven’t?” and “What did I do wrong?” Self-blame can make a person feel guilty for a sin never committed. Counseling can sometimes help a spouse get past the negative feelings associated with being falsely accused of adultery.

Being Falsely Accused of Cheating: Opposing Fault-Based Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee

“Why does my husband spread rumors about my having an affair?” What a painful question. Dr. Phil offers some advice on how a person can get back on track after being at the center of destructive gossip, false accusations, and rumors, but there is more to it under Tennessee law.

In Tennessee, there are at least two fault-based grounds for divorce worthy of discussion whenever one spouse accuses the other of cheating. Therefore, a lawyer should not ignore false allegations of infidelity when the client says, “My husband thinks I cheated on him and I didn’t.”

First, adultery is grounds for divorce. Second, what many spouses may not know (that is, before they consult with a Memphis, TN, divorce attorney) is that inappropriate marital conduct, such as browbeating and bullying, is also grounds for divorce.

Can false accusations of cheating rise to the level of inappropriate marital conduct under Tennessee divorce law? Yes, they can. And if a husband says, “I’m not unfaithful, but my wife always accuses me of cheating and then lying about it,” an experienced divorce lawyer will assess whether the wife’s false accusations are relevant to an award of alimony. In Tennessee, fault is an alimony factor for the judge to consider. T.C.A. § 36-5-121(i).

Additionally, most judges interpret the meaning of inappropriate marital conduct very broadly. As described in The Tennessee Divorce Client’s Handbook by attorney Miles Mason, Sr., “Inappropriate marital conduct is the willful, persistent causing of unnecessary suffering whether by realization or apprehension, whether of the mind or body, in such a way as to render cohabitation unsafe and unendurable.” A husband who spreads false rumors about his wife’s adultery is one such example. Furthermore, a combination of lesser acts may rise to the level of inappropriate marital conduct over time, as with repeated false accusations of cheating.

Why Does My Spouse Accuse Me of Cheating? How to deal with false accusations from spouse? Is It Divorce Prep?

On many internet forums, the most common responses to the question “Why does my wife (or husband) accuse me of cheating?” can be summarized as:

  • The accuser is insecure, perhaps because of past cheating in the marriage or in an earlier relationship (“I’ve been burned before…”);

  • The accuser is the one doing the cheating; or

  • The accuser is trying to end the relationship by manipulating the other spouse into separating, perhaps even pushing the other spouse into the arms of a lover. (“You want cheating? I’ll show you cheating!”)

A clinical psychologist might answer the question a little differently, though.

When a spouse falsely accuses the other of having an affair, adding that she does not believe she can remain faithful given the circumstances, then this is looking more like projection. Dr. George Simon, Ph.D., put it this way:

“Projection has historically been regarded as the unconscious way a person avoids reckoning with thoughts, urges, emotions, or impulses they believe to be unacceptable by attributing them to (projecting them onto) others. So, a person who is struggling with desires to cheat (or has in fact cheated and is feeling badly about it) might assuage their pangs of conscience by attributing those same desires to others.”

What to do when you’ve been falsely accused of cheating? Is There an Underlying Medical or Mental Condition?

Why does my spouse accuse me of cheating?

Sometimes baseless and false accusations of infidelity are tied to an underlying medical condition or pathological process. Alzheimer’s disease can cause a patient to experience fixed false beliefs. One such fixed false belief could be the other spouse’s infidelity, regardless of the lack of real world evidence. With such a serious memory disorder, delusions of infidelity cannot be washed away through logical discussion or proof of fidelity. They are “fixed” because the patient cannot be convinced otherwise. They are “delusional” because a truly objective review of the facts leads to a different, contrary inference.

Some delusions are associated with mental conditions, including obsessional jealousy (OCD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and mania. Delusional jealousy (or infidelity delusion) is a known type of delusion. There is also the possibility of a non-bizarre delusional disorder of the “jealous type” where there is no other known psychopathology. In other words, sometimes the accuser cannot stop himself or herself, at least without outside intervention of some kind. That does not make it right or any easier to live with, but it does mean that a deliberate assault on the marriage is less likely to be the case.

Catching Cheaters in Memphis TN Divorce

A divorce attorney will want to know whether the client has a nagging suspicion or actual evidence of a spouse’s cheating. A woman’s intuition could be spot on. A man’s gut feeling may be worth investigating further. But intuition or mere suspicion will not carry the day in court. Judge’s require relevant evidence.

Catching cheaters in Memphis TN divorce.

Signs of Cheating in Tennessee Divorce

What makes a wife falsely accuse her husband of being unfaithful to her? Why does a husband curse his wife for lying about her affairs when she claims she has been faithful? Most people are reasonably tuned to their partner’s traits, emotions, and habits so that any deviation from the known pattern could be interpreted as a clue that something more is going on. To change is human, but that does not necessarily indicate cheating. There are many subtle indicators, none of which are conclusive without more:

  • Pattern of working late at the office;

  • Extraordinary credit card charges;

  • Unexplained withdrawals from joint bank accounts;

  • Hushed or secretive communications; and

  • Suspicious emails.

These may be signs of infidelity, but they are not proof of cheating.

Social Media Evidence in TN Divorce Cases

I have pictures of my spouse cheating on me!” Lawfully obtained photographs are worth a thousand words in Tennessee divorce.

One place to look for evidence of cheating is Facebook and other social networks, including YouTube, Instagram, and Vine. As a matter of course today, divorce lawyers go directly online to search for photographs, comments, videos, and blogs that might indicate an extramarital affair, irresponsible parenting, or hidden assets. Even tweets and micro blogs can provide evidence sufficient to carry the burden of proof that the other spouse is a cheater. (For example, the husband’s tweet: “I’m a wild and crazy single guy – #sexyman.”)

Divorce Attorneys Do Hire Private Investigators

The spouse who suspects cheating should consider hiring a licensed private investigator. Some PI sleuthing could set the record straight by collecting evidence lawfully. In many cases, the divorce attorney will arrange to hire the private investigator.

If after investigation there is still no evidence of infidelity in social media, emails, background checks, and the like, then a little introspection may be in order.

When a person cannot, or will not, let go of the opinion that a spouse is cheating, when no supporting evidence has surfaced to substantiate that belief, then the accuser should ask: Why am I insecure? Why am I always prepared to think the worst? Why is my self-esteem so low when it comes to my marriage? Am I emotionally dependent upon my spouse? Do I have problems trusting the opposite sex? Am I suspicious by nature? Do I have an overactive imagination? To start finding answers, it may be time to consider individual counseling.

One Last Thought

With a pending Tennessee divorce, negotiating issues of property division, alimony, child custody, and parenting time can be particularly challenging when, in the absence of credible evidence, one spouse insists the other is an adulterer. Talk to a lawyer about divorce mediation as a way to try and break through these impasses. Working with a mediator often avoids litigation and can help control legal expenses. If there are minor children involved, then mediation is mandatory.

References, Resources and More:

  • 15 Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee

  • Defenses to Divorce in Tennessee | Adulterous and Cruel Without Fault

  • How Much Can An Extramarital Affair Cost Under Tennessee Divorce Laws?

  • Divorcing the Narcissist

  • Your First Steps: 7 Steps Planning Your Tennessee Divorce | Free eBook

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