In 2003, the last time the New Hampshire Supreme Court took up a case that centered on the interpretation of adultery, the justices ruled it consisted only of out-of-marriage intercourse between people of the opposite sex.
This week, in a unanimous ruling, the court set a new precedent, siding with a man whose ex-wife allegedly had an intimate relationship with another woman.
“It defies logic to suggest that our Legislature and the Supreme Court recognized the rights of same-sex couples to enter into legally valid marriages without also intending that same-sex couples be endowed with all of the responsibilities, protections, and grounds for divorce that are associated with the legal status of marriage,” said Justice Patrick Donovan, who authored the eight-page opinion released Thursday.
The New Hampshire Legislature legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, and six years later, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made same-sex marriage legal in all states. But until now, divorce proceedings in New Hampshire still relied on the 2003 interpretation, known as the Blanchflower decision, that adultery could only be grounds for a fault-based divorce claim if the infidelity was between a man and woman.
“The view of the institution of marriage underpinning our holding in Blanchflower has changed in the eyes of the law and society,” said Donovan.
According to the justices, adultery should now be “defined as voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person’s spouse, regardless of the sex or gender of either person.”
The decision overturns a lower court ruling in a suit involving Robert and Molly Blaisdell, who filed for divorce in January 2019 citing irreconcilable differences. In March 2019, Robert Blaisdell filed an updated petition seeking a fault-based divorce, alleging that Molly Blaisdell had engaged in an intimate relationship with another woman.
A lower court judge issued a one-sentence motion dismissing Robert Blaisdell’s petition, citing the Blanchflower ruling.