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Can I Divorce My Spouse if They Gave Me an STD?

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) can refer to many different viruses an infected person may spread through sexual intercourse. STDs such as HIV and herpes can cause significant health problems for life. An STD can have serious emotional consequences. It could also cause humiliation and damage to a person’s reputation. If your spouse knowingly gave you an STD without warning you of the possibility, you could not only get a divorce, but you may also be able to hold him or her civilly and criminally liable.

Filing Criminal and Civil Charges Against Your Spouse

No federal law makes it mandatory to tell a sexual partner about an STD. If a person recklessly or intentionally gives someone else an STD, however, that person could be responsible for related damages. Willfully transmitting a disease of any kind to another person is against the law in California. An STD is an infectious and communicable disease that is illegal to intentionally transmit to someone else.

If your spouse knew he or she had an STD, intentionally failed to disclose this information and transmitted the STD to you, your spouse could face criminal charges in California. The penalties for knowingly transmitting a sexually transmitted disease to another person are up to $1,000 in fines, six months in jail and/or mandatory probation. Knowingly or recklessly transmitting HIV/AIDS is a felony in California, punishable with up to eight years behind bars.

Your spouse may be able to avoid criminal charges if he or she was unaware of the STD or did not intentionally or recklessly pass it to you. Even if your spouse is not guilty of a crime, however, he or she could be civilly responsible for your STD-related damages. These may include the price of doctor’s visits and medications, damage to your reputation, pain and suffering, and mental anguish.

You may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit against your spouse for recklessly transmitting an STD during your relationship. Your odds of securing compensation improve if you have a serious case, such as if the STD will require lifelong medical treatment. In the past, special immunity protected spouses from lawsuits against one another. Today, however, the California courts permit marital torts.

No-Fault Divorces in California

You can divorce your spouse for giving you an STD in California. California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning you could divorce your spouse for any reason. You do not need to prove your spouse’s fault or wrongdoing for the courts to grant your divorce petition. Instead, you need only cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for divorce. Explaining that your spouse gave you an STD, however, could make a difference in matters such as spousal maintenance.

Your spouse cannot stop a divorce you have already set in motion. If your spouse does not agree to the divorce, he or she may enter a response contesting the motion. This will not stop the divorce, but it could result in a court trial to settle matters such as property division and parental rights. A contested divorce can take more time and money than an uncontested one. If your spouse chooses not to respond to your petition at all, the courts will grant your divorce based on a default judgment.

Within the context of your divorce, it may be in your best interest to bring up the fact that the reason for the split is your spouse giving you an STD. If your spouse broke state law in intentionally or recklessly transmitting the disease, you or your lawyer must address these issues during your divorce case rather than waiting until after the split. State laws require you to bring any other claims you may have against your spouse during your divorce case. Telling your lawyer about the STD could allow him or her to better litigate your divorce case.