So…It Doesn’t Matter That My Spouse Is a Liar and a Cheater?!?! (Pennsylvania – The “No Fault” State)

August 22, 2017

In order to end one’s marriage in the past, a spouse was forced to prove to the court that there existed acceptable grounds for divorce (i.e. fault like willful and malicious desertion by a spouse, adultery, cruel and barbarous treatment, bigamy, imprisonment, and/or indignities) or … wait for death to do you part.  Once a spouse convinced a court of how horrible the other was, that spouse may have reaped a financial gain in the divorce because it was not his or her “fault.”   Imagine the stories of debauchery that flowed through the courtrooms at that time and the effect such had on the litigants, their children and society overall.

However, perform any Google search about divorce in Pennsylvania now and you will learn that in the 1980s, Pennsylvania created the preferred path of a “no-fault divorce,” whereby a spouse need only allege that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and demonstrate a specific period of separation.  Gone was the need to tell of all the horrible and offensive acts done by your spouse throughout the marriage.  A spouse can still seek a fault divorce in Pennsylvania, but the only purpose for doing this would be to avoid the mandatory separation period (one or two years from date of separation – see my other blog on separation), or to raise an affirmative defense to alimony.

With “no fault divorce,” divorce became more of a business-like transaction where one’s transgressions in the marriage no longer meant an economic windfall for the other.  Instead, Pennsylvania established a standard list of factors for courts to consider when deciding equitable distribution between parties (i.e. how to divide the marital assets and debts).  This list of now 11 factors are as follows, and they do not include marital misconduct.

(1) The length of the marriage.

(2) Any prior marriage of either party.

(3) The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties.

(4) The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.

(5) The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income.

(6) The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.

(7) The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker.

(8) The value of the property set apart to each party.

(9) The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.

(10)  The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is to become effective.

(10.1)  The Federal, State and local tax ramifications associated with each asset to be divided, distributed or assigned, which ramifications need not be immediate and certain.

(10.2)  The expense of sale, transfer or liquidation associated with a particular asset, which expense need not be immediate and certain.

(11)  Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.

Marital misconduct is only relevant to very limited circumstances pertaining to support and alimony.  An unfaithful or otherwise badly behaving party who seeks support from his/her spouse prior to the filing of a divorce action can be denied support for the misconduct if such was the cause of separation.  This is called a “defense” to a claim for support.  However, once a divorce complaint is filed, marital misconduct no longer stands as an impediment to interim support.  Finally, marital misconduct is one of 17 factors that a court may consider when deciding whether or not to award alimony after the entry of a divorce decree.  However, this factor is generally given relatively low weight in practice.

As such, we leave the sordid stories of mistresses and rendezvous to television dramas and reality shows, where the entertainment value is all that can be deemed from such activity.

At Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky, our lawyers are experienced and skilled in determining the type of divorce to pursue, what relief to seek, and the tactical and strategic analysis required to make these decisions. For questions, contact Chrystal Tinstman at ctintsman@smgglaw.com or (412) 281-5423.