Spouses who are contemplating divorce sometimes ask whether it makes any difference if a spouse has had an extramarital affair or abandoned the family home. Fault divorce in Pennsylvania may include adultery, abandonment, indignities, or cruel and barbarous treatment. Fault divorces have become less common but have not been completely eliminated in Pennsylvania. Understanding how marital fault can affect the result and when it is not relevant at all is important when pursuing a divorce.
Why is fault typically irrelevant to a divorce in Pennsylvania?
Prior to the advent of no-fault divorce laws, divorces were not granted unless a petitioner could prove a spouse was insane, impotent/infertile, unfaithful, abusive or unfit. Some believe that these fault grounds should be required today, arguing couples do not make enough effort to stay together. Yet, lawyers and judges across the United States in the 1970s saw fault divorce was responsible for trapping spouses in situations that were financially and emotionally unworkable. The pain and expense of a divorce is not something most people take lightly. Fault divorce is still available today, but rare.
In 1980, Pennsylvania was one of the last states to enact a no-fault divorce law. This means the court has the authority to grant a divorce simply because there are irreconcilable differences between the parties and the marriage is irretrievably broken. Grounds for divorce are established when both spouses sign consent forms after a 90 day waiting period, which begins when the initial pleading (complaint) is filed or when they have been separated for at least two years.
Will a Pennsylvania divorce court consider evidence of adultery, abuse or misconduct?
In certain circumstances, it may be beneficial or necessary for one spouse to raise fault grounds. When that happens, the court conducts an evidentiary hearing to decide if fault grounds exist. Spouses who seek divorce under fault grounds must give specific factual testimony about marital misconduct, such as cheating, unwarranted hostility, insulting and embarassing behavior, physical abuse or neglect. Judges are naturally reluctant to hear this evidence unless it is necessary.
If the court finds grounds for fault, a spouse who might otherwise have to pay spousal support or alimony may be able to avoid those obligations or greatly shorten their duration. Fault has no effect, however, upon child support or the division of marital assets. The lawyers at Pollock Begg Komar Glasser & Vertz LLC have experience in dealing with fault divorce and can meet with you to discuss whether filing for a fault divorce would be beneficial to your situation.