Media coverage of the sex scandal involving former general David Petraeus has shed light on a little-understood crime: adultery. In most states adultery remains a private issue between married partners. But in others, the act of cheating on one's spouse is basically considered a sex crime. In some states, adultery is treated as a misdemeanor. But in five other states - Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Idaho, Michigan and Wisconsin, adultery is categorized as a felony.

Adultery is rarely prosecuted in Wisconsin, but the fact that a cheating spouse could be convicted of a felony for his or her behavior is something that few Wisconsin residents are aware of. Members of the armed forces can similarly be prosecuted for adultery, but generally this act must be paired with some larger crime before it would result in disciplinary action.

At its core, adultery has long been considered a crime due to antiquated ideas about wives as male property. This foundational concept is the primary reason why this crime is no longer widely prosecuted. However, certain circumstances, motivations and players can converge in such a way that a cheating spouse in Wisconsin may face serious consequences. If not in the criminal courts, than in family law matters and even in employment matters, as General Petraeus has reminded us all.

Though it is a little-prosecuted crime, it is wise not to take chances. If you have questions about whether certain adulterous behavior could land you in hot water with the criminal justice system as well as with your spouse, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Source: New York Times, "Adultery, an Ancient Crime That Remains on Many Books," Ethan Bronner, Nov. 14, 2012