"Your cheatin' heart" might tell on you, as the song says, but in Taiwan it can also land you in jail. Taiwan might be the only country left in the world where adultery is not only grounds for divorce but a criminal offense punishable by a jail sentence of up to 12 months.
In practice, few are jailed; a sentence is usually commutable to a fine of around NT$900 for each day of jail time handed out.
The question that legal scholars are now dealing with, however, is whether, as Taiwan enters a new century, the criminalization of adultery is an outdated concept which should be scrapped.
But a range of interests is stacked against altering the law, from women's groups that believe criminalization is a weapon against erring husbands that Taiwan's women -- often legally disadvantaged in family-related matters -- would be loath to lose, to private detectives who make a good living from adultery cases.
Much of the business for private detectives comes from wives of suspected adulterers who either want to obtain a divorce or to force their husband's mistress out and win their "stray" husbands back.
In fact, the law itself encourages such happy endings -- getting couples "back together" -- by allowing accusers to drop adultery charges against their spouses, while at the same time allowing the charge to be sustained against the "intruders."
Ironically, despite the fact that use of the law is generally initiated by wives against their husbands, at one time the law allowed criminal liability for adultery only against women. Such legal discrimination is, to this day, still cited by women's rights activists, as reflecting the values of a society where it is common for a man to have sexual relationships outside of marriage.
The law was eventually changed to treat men and women adulterers equally and now it is viewed as an "effective weapon" by women today.
Opponents say it is "savage" to put someone in jail for adultery and have long called for the law's abolition.
But many women support the idea that the law protects "good" people who are loyal to their marriage and punishes those who betray their marriage vows.
While the debate on decriminalization has gone on for years, both proponents and opponents of the law are far from reaching common ground.
The court's perspective
Although adultery is punishable by a jail sentence, few adulterers have actually been sent to prison. More often than not, the court allows one found guilty of adultery to escape with a fines of "equal" value to the jail sentence.
In general, adultery can result in both criminal and civil liabilities. It also constitutes legal grounds for requesting a divorce via the court.
The majority of cases involve an alleged adulterer being subjected to a criminal trial. And along with a divorce request based on the fault of adultery often comes a request of compensation for mental distress caused by the adultery.
Huang Ja-lei (
He said, however, that chances are that the marriage is hurt even more once the charge is filed and the charge is itself detrimental to a couple's reconciliation .
"Many women thought they could get their husbands back by taking [a case] to court. They tried to make a deal, promising to drop the charge as long as the husband came back," Huang said. "But in reality, most of them would only regret it when they realize the court can't help love to continue."