Michigan adultery law – it is a crime.

Adultery under Michigan adultery law is never enforced. However, the adultery statute provides:

“Adultery is the sexual intercourse of 2 persons, either of whom is married to a third person.”

Michigan Compiled Laws 750.29

The punishment for the crime of adultery is severe. Adultery is a felony, which means adultery is punishable by more than one year in jail. (MCL 750.30). The adultery statute is also out-of-date. For example, the adultery statue provides a different punishment for an adulterous married woman and an adulterous single woman. The punishment under the statute governing Michigan adultery law provides:

“Any person who shall commit adultery shall be guilty of a felony; and when the crime is committed between a married woman and a man who is unmarried, the man shall be guilty of adultery, and liable to the same punishment.”

Michigan Compiled Laws 750.30.


The adultery statute is also sexist. For example, if a married woman engages in an affair with a single man, both the married woman and the single can be punished for adultery. However, if a married man engages in an affair with a single woman, the single woman cannot be punished under the statute. Apparently, when the statute was written, single woman never pursued married men!

The statute of limitations under Michigan adultery law is one year. (People v. Davis 52. Mich. 569, February 6, 1884). In researching the statute, I can find no Court of Appeals or Supreme Court cases in which someone was charged with adultery since 1931 when the statue was enacted. Rather, the cases cited refer to adultery as a defense to other or civil matters.

Under the old statute and under common law , I have compiled the following list of Michigan adultery law cases addressed by the Michigan Court of Appeals or Supreme Court. Remarkably, over 100 years ago, it appears that the the crime was rarely enforced, or swept under the rug.

People vs. Hendrickson, 543 Mich. 525, April 30, 1884 (not a mistake 1884). On August 21, 1883, Mr. Hendrickson was charged with the crime of adultery committed with one Varnella Smith and sentenced to two years in prison. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the sentence as the affair occurred over two years before the prosecution commenced.

People vs. Davis, 42. Mich. 560.  Mr. Davis was charged with committing adultery with Sarah M. O’Rourke, the wife of Thomas O’Rourke in Macomb County on September 1, 1881. Once again, the verdict was reversed as the alleged affair took place on a different date. 

People v. DeGoenaga, 202 Mich. 503 (1918).  Mr. DeGoenaga was convicted of committing the crime of adultery on January 14, 1917 with Luella M. Keller. However, Mr. DeGoenaga had an alibi which the court ignored. The Supreme Court once again reversed the conviction.

Adultery is the ultimate betrayal in a marriage, Although, Michigan adultery law makes it a crime, it is never enforced. However, Michigan divorce law, provides remedies for adultery to the extent that it caused the breakdown of the marriage. Fault (adultery) can impact a property award, alimony award and in certain circumstances a child custody determination (especially if a child was introduced to the paramour).

Although Michigan adultery law provides no legal recourse for the betrayal associated with an affair, Michigan divorce law does. Let us help you manage your situation.

About Findling Law

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I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades. The attorneys at Findling Law all share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles.  We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.That is why we provide more free information on divorce and family law than any other Michigan law firm. We want to help you manage your situation. Allow our exceptional legal team to help you navigate the change in your life, without compromising principles.
By:  Daniel Findling

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