For several weeks, the adultery scandal perpetrated by former CIA Director David Petraeus has dominated the news. There are countless talking points surrounding the scandal (and virtually everyone has an opinion about them), but one key feature stands out: General Petraeus’ military career.
Adultery is rarely prosecuted in the few states in which it is still considered a crime. Generally, the consequences of adultery play out most prominently in the divorce setting. In some states, a finding that adultery has occurred could result in significant modifications during asset division, as well as in spousal maintenance and child custody determinations. Arizona, however, is a “no-fault” state which means that the basis for the divorce has no bearing on whether one can obtain a divorce and also does not (in most cases) affect the equitable division of property or an award of spousal maintenance. Generally the only impact adultery may have on asset division in Arizona would be if the injured spouse could prove to the court that the adultery resulted in financial waste to the community (think romantic trips, jewelry, gifts, etc.).
In the military, however, adultery can have much more serious legal consequences. Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 134 (UCMJ 134) prohibits “all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces,” and adultery has historically been included within such conduct. Proving that the conduct brought “discredit upon the armed forces” is a difficult standard to overcome, but the Petraeus scandal would certainly qualify – the scandal has, after all, drawn worldwide attention to the military, the CIA, and the United States government as a whole.
Court-martials for adultery have grown less common in recent years, but they do occur. The most common avenue through which adultery comes to light in the military setting is through divorce proceedings – if a serviceperson admits to adultery during a divorce, they may be subject to a court-martial and subsequent discipline (in addition to the civil disadvantages that may occur in the state court’s dissolution action).
Life as a member of the Armed Forces differs in many ways from the lives of civilians. An attorney with knowledge of military divorces and the unique challenges they present will ensure that your rights and assets are protected throughout the process. Attempting to navigate the interactions of federal, state, and military law which take place during a military divorce without an attorney could expose you to both civil and – as illustrated by the Petraeus scandal – criminal penalties.