04/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Committing Adultery? You Could Go to Jail

So, did you notice what I noticed as Tiger Woods delivered his 14 minute nationally televised mea culpa last week? While he was busy admitting, "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated ..." Tiger failed to mention that he had also broken the law.

Adultery is a crime.

I know that sounds odd and old fashioned. But the truth is that more than 20 states, including Florida where Wood's keeps his primary residence, still have laws on the books against cheating on your spouse.

It's also illegal in North Carolina where disgraced Senator John Edwards recently admitted he'd fathered a child with a long time mistress. And adultery continues to be illegal in South Carolina where Governor Mark Sanford broke his vows to wife, Jenny, and admitted his soul mate was a South American woman with whom he'd been having an affair.

In most of the states with anti-adultery laws those found guilty can be imprisoned.

The crime is generally defined as "those who engage in sexual intercourse with a person who is not the spouse ..." and usually both parties involved in the act are considered to have committed the crime. That means Tiger's fifteen (at last count) gal pals, the Senator's mistress, the Governor's soul mate and even someone engaged in just a one-night-stand could be punished -- if a third party wanted to press the point.

So, what's the prescribed punishment? It ranges from a mere $250 fine in Virginia, to several years in state prison (as well as a fine) in states like Massachusetts, Michigan and Alabama. In Wisconsin adultery is considered to be a Class 1 felony punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and three and a half years in prison. Members of the U.S. military can also still be charged with adultery and put behind bars.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. The laws may be on the books but they're hardly ever used anymore, right?

That's right. But how long do you think it will take some sharp divorce attorney to get wise?

I predict these very public adultery apologies aren't going to slow down anytime soon. In fact, they've become quite fashionable, expected really, when someone in the public eye gets caught straying. Some lawyer with an extra-vindictive spurned spouse will almost certainly land upon the strategy to force their state to adhere to its anti-adultery law.

I can't fathom a judge in the land that would say a law that's still on the books can be legally ignored. The legislature would have to abolish it first. So, if you're thinking of stepping out on your spouse you might want to check your local law first. If it's already too late for that, you better hope your spouse doesn't hire an imaginative attorney.

But back to Tiger. I wasn't in the room when he made his statement but I was just a mile away in the media holding area in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Some 350 reporters and sports writers were on hand for the event, beamed in via satellite on big screen TV sets. As it began I wondered if Wood's words would be sincere or designed for mere public relations value. Three short sentences within his remarks answered my question.

"I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don't know when that day will be ... Starting tomorrow I will leave for more treatment and more therapy."

For the first time in Tiger Wood's life the game of golf seems not to be the most important thing. He sounded like a man who is truly struggling to get his priorities straight. He said point blank he realizes now that he is not entitled to break the rules with no thought as to who might be hurt by his actions. His wife, two children and his mother have apparently taken center stage in his life.

"It's up to me to start living a life of integrity," he said.

I wonder if he realizes how much of a continuing challenge that will be. It's been widely reported that the billionaire Tiger didn't hesitate to throw money at past paramours in an effort to keep his secrets quiet at all cost. He is surely now a prime target for any unscrupulous woman who's after a celebrity notch on her belt and a potential payoff to keep silent. Gold diggers will have Tiger in their cross-hairs for sure and he'd be well advised to hire a diligent minder, much like Bill Clinton's staff employed a "Bimbo Monitor" for the former president.

Will Woods relapse? Statistics tell us it's likely. Will his wife stick around? It's too early to tell. But at least Tiger had enough character to finally admit the truth, to ask forgiveness and to seek help.

People can change.