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Adultery definition: When is there really adultery?



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Adultery definition

When we talk about adultery, we think of an infidelity committed in a couple by one of the two partners, including physical infidelity. The notion of deception is closely related for most people to carnal infidelity. What about the definition of adultery? How exactly to define it? Historically speaking? And from a legal point of view? Do I have to be married to use the term adultery? And for couples, what is the barrier between fidelity and infidelity?

These are all questions raised by this notion. When is there really adultery? Here is an article that tries to give you clear answers on this subject.



Adultery definition: When is there really adultery?

Generic definition of adultery

By definition, adultery is an infidelity that takes place between two people who have taken vows of marriage. It is indeed “the fact that a spouse violates his oath of fidelity, sharing, and has physical relations with a person other than his spouse to whom he has affirmed this oath”.

Failure to comply with any of these duties of marriage constitutes marital misconduct. Adultery can be defined as the violation of the duty of fidelity.

Commonly, we also speak of infidelity.

Adultery therefore presupposes an extramarital relationship,in a society and context in which exclusive fidelity is promoted between the two spouses.


Legal definition of adultery (Adultery definition)

A distinction from infidelity

The courts make a distinction between these two related concepts.

Infidelity, legally speaking, is more akin to an insult to the other spouse and constitutes a breach of the dignity of marriage. However, even in the absence of established adultery, it follows that one spouse may simply invoke the outrageous extramarital relations of the other.

For example, more and more, we can also speak of virtual adultery. And this, when one of the spouses “cheats” the other assiduously on the Internet.

Indeed, the Court of Cassation admitted, in a judgment of April 30, 2014, that adultery can be constituted even in the absence of a physical relationship. Thus, a person who exchanges messages and intimate photographs, how a violation of the duty of fidelity. (dating sites, social networks.)


However, since adultery is no longer a “peremptory” cause for divorce, the court must find sufficient evidence of the serious and repeated facts. It is on this condition that the maintenance of living together is considered intolerable. And because of this, divorce can be pronounced on the grounds of adultery.

A little history (Adultery definition)

In France, before Law No. 75-617 of 11 July 1975:

– The woman guilty of the “crime” of adultery was punished by a prison sentence of 3 months to 2 years. Her husband was liable for this fault only to a fine of 360 to 7,200 francs, but only if his adultery had been committed in the marital home;

– Unlike excesses, abuse and insults which were optional causes of divorce, the adultery of the wife, like that of the husband, were considered a peremptory cause. That is to say, adultery automatically led to divorce to the exclusive faults of its author.


It was therefore not until 1975 that adultery in France was no longer punished criminally but more than civilly.

Definition of adultery from a legal perspective

The legal concept of adultery and its sanctions have therefore evolved according to mores and times.

Today, article 212 of the Civil Code, which is pronounced at the time of each marriage, provides that “the spouses owe each other respect, fidelity, help and assistance”.

However, the definition of these duties is broad enough to allow the courts to sanction a variety of wrongful behaviours. However, such conduct is recognized as such by the court only if it:

  • Are outrageous
  • Are serious or repeated
  • Make the maintenance of the marital bond intolerable

Article 242 of the Civil Code provides that:

“Divorce may be requested by one of the spouses when acts constituting a serious or repeated violation of the duties and obligations of marriage are attributable to his or her spouse and make it intolerable to continue living together.”

Adultery: a fault justifying divorce to the exclusive wrongs of its author

On the basis of the violation of the duty of fidelity, a spouse can therefore request two things. On the one hand, damages and, on the other hand, divorce issolely wrong with one’s spouse. 

For this, he must prove adultery, thanks to irrefutable and legally recovered evidence:

  • A written document
  • Confessions
  • Testimonials
  • A private investigator’s report
  • Legally obtained SMS or emails

Therefore, it is not possible to record a conversation on a voicemail. Nor to obtain documents protected by a password or a code. Emails are admissible as proof only if it is established that the spouse had left his mailbox open. With regard to text messages, the evidence is inadmissible if the spouse’s phone was searched without his or her consent.

Adultery: a fault left to the sovereign discretion of the judge

That said, the judge has a broad discretion to assess fault and takes into account the other spouse’s share of responsibility. Thus, the judge may rule out adultery when it is reciprocal or find it “excused circumstances”. Indeed, the courts consider that the spouse who has found emotional comfort to compensate for the deficiencies of his spouse is not completely at fault.


At present, therefore, adultery is considered in civil law as a marital fault, which the judge may dismiss or excuse in view of the faults committed by the other spouse.

The Court of Cassation, in a judgment of December 17, 2015, affirmed the following principle:

“The evolution of morals as well as that of moral conceptions no longer makes it possible to consider that marital infidelity would be contrary to the common representation of morality in contemporary society”

When is there really adultery in a couple?

Adultery is therefore the official term for marital fault of infidelity in the eyes of the law. As can be seen, this concept has evolved over the decades, particularly since the 1970s. Adultery always constitutes a breach of the oath of marriage and may, if irrefutable evidence is provided, constitute the main recognized reason for the dissolution of the marriage. Then the court can pronounce the divorce to the exclusive wrongs of the unfaithful spouse.


However, more and more couples are living together, having a couple and family life without being married.

What about adultery in these many cases?

For them, adultery obviously cannot be recognized by law sinceno civil union has been registered. In the event of infidelity, it is therefore up to both partners to make the decision to give themselves another chance or to separate.

Each couple has its own definition of fidelity and therefore of infidelity, from which the deception begins and the threshold of tolerance to be respected.

From the moment a union is free; it is up to the couple to give their own definition of adultery and what is therefore accepted in their home.


What is fidelity? (Adultery definition)

The word fidelity refers to the notions of trust and loyalty,two values most of the time fundamental within a couple. It is a proof of “the constancy of feelings”. And in this, physical fidelity is an inescapable foundation for the vast majority of couples in Western societies. In many cases, it is an implicit contract. This explains why it is not necessarily respected…

Indeed, it remains a difficult concept to define because it is fluctuating and personal, depending on the culture or age of the partners in particular.

For example, a person who practices libertinage or polyamory will not perceive infidelity in the same way as a more “classic” person.

Definition and reasons for adultery

Physical infidelity and emotional infidelity

Often, the partner who commits adultery going so far as to make love with another person says that he acted by impulse, by physical attraction, responding to an unfulfilled desire, due to a physical lack within his couple.


For those who practice rather emotional and emotional infidelity, more and more often virtual moreover, it responds to an emotional deficiency.

For everyone, it is either a need to please, to seduce, to satisfy a drive or to reassure themselves, to be less alone, to feel loved.

In most cases, this responds to a lack within his couple or in any case felt as such.

However, today it is easy to break up with your partner.


So why continue to deceive when you can just separate?

For comfort first of all. The fear of losing one’s material comfort, of getting out of one’s comfort zone, often for children too, or out of cowardice, out of fear of the gaze of others.

Increasingly, too, the strong surge of individualism is not unrelated to the phenomenon. Individual development, including at the carnal level, is at the centre of many’s concerns. The fulfillment of all desires must be immediate.

The couple is therefore faced with a new danger, a kind of social pressure of performance and consumption, since dissatisfaction on the part of one of the partners can put the couple in danger, tempted to look elsewhere for what is apparently lacking within his couple.

When is there really adultery?

The different types of adultery

The passing relationship or one-night stand

It is a relationship with no future with little or no emotional involvement. “Consumption” is reduced to its simplest expression: people know that they will never see each other again and any exchange other than physical is excluded.


Adventure, bandage relationship or the famous sex-friends

It is distinguished above all by its duration: there is a form of attachment that is created, facilitated by the repetition of encounters. The physical interest remains but the relationship is gradually transformed, hence the idea of two friends who sleep together in a relationship “with affinities”. Routine daily life is avoided to the extent that the relationship is unstable, hidden, secret. This is what makes it for many the chili pepper, but also the danger…

The romantic affair or double life

The love affair can evolve from a lasting physical bond to something more complete, whereas the feeling of love was initially excluded or unconscious. This is the most complex adultery. The unfaithful partner must make a quick choice: dissolve his couple in order to form a new one or end the relationship. 

Very often, the elements he has are biased because his bond is like a honeymoon all the time, since it is on the margins of daily life and his obligations. Clearly, the feelings may be sincere, but the situation is artificial. The secret couple can only test its viability by becoming a real couple. While waiting to make a choice, the infidel sinks into a double life.

Why do you cheat on your partner?

Here are the main reasons given to explain the act of adultery:

  • Out of love or desire for another person
  • To live a different experience
  • To take revenge for the infidelity of his spouse
  • In order to spice up his intimate life
  • To give yourself a break in your life as a couple
  • To make your spouse jealous/jealous

When are we unfaithful?

Here are the signs of infidelity, from the “most serious to the least serious” according to most people.

  • Have an ongoing physical relationship with another partner
  • Having a one-time physical relationship without love for the person
  • Kissing another person on the mouth
  • Falling in love with another person but without taking action
  • flirt
  • Having moments of complicity with another person
  • Ambiguous use of social networks
  • Interact virtually with another person
  • Don’t say we’re in a relationship
  • Receive advances and do not push them back

A definition that is both universal and personal

To each couple its definition and especially its perception of fidelity and infidelity. If the definition of adultery is somehow “universal”, each couple is free to interpret it in its own way according to its mode of operation and its conception of the couple. For this good communication is of course essential from the beginning of the relationship to ensure that we are on the same wavelength, on this subject as for many others.

Indeed, just because we are not married does not mean that the oath of fidelity is not implicit and adultery is not serious.


For a couple to be happy, both partners must share the same values and ideas, with respect and reciprocity. An imposed or hidden infidelity cannot be considered accepted by the partner who undergoes it. To be free to have other relationships while being in a relationship, this way of thinking about love and desire must be shared by both partners.

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