The Blame Game: How Courts Deal With Marital Misconduct
Following last week’s leak of user information for the clandestine dating website AshleyMadison.com, the topic of infidelity has dominated headlines. Much has been written about the anticipated surge in divorce cases following the release of 32 million users’ e-mail addresses, which has many asking whether or not an ex-spouse’s infidelity will carry any weight in the arena of divorce litigation. The short answer is “probably not.” The long answer is a little more nuanced, however since the emergence of No-Fault Divorces in PA courts have concerned themselves less and less with what has happened in the past and instead focused on how best to situate parties going forward.
With regard to Child Support, Spousal Support, and Alimony Pendente Lite (“Pending Litigation”), infidelity and/or other types of marital misconduct (domestic abuse excluded) will not play much of a role in figuring out the support obligation. Child Support and Spousal Support orders aim to maintain the type of lifestyle enjoyed by the payee throughout the marriage and do not consider the reasons why the marriage ultimately failed. The purpose of Alimony Pendente Lite is to ensure that both parties are of similar financial footing so that either may have the resources available to them to maintain or to defend an action in divorce. Again, for purposes of APL courts are not concerned with why the marriage failed as much as how to level the playing field where one spouse focused on their career while the other focused their efforts within the household.
For custody, courts will consider marital misconduct only to the extent that the behavior has impacted or will impact the best interest of the children. While the term “marital misconduct” does not appear anywhere in the Pennsylvania Custody Statutes, there are times where marital misconduct impacts a parent’s ability to adequately care for their children. A good example here is a spouse’s alcoholism or drug use. An example of marital misconduct that will likely NOT impact the outcome of a custody case is infidelity. Again, the courts are not concerned with the reasons why the marriage ended unless those reasons can be linked to the parties’ abilities to provide for the best interest of their children.
Finally, Equitable Distribution. Infidelity MAY play a role in the outcome of an ED case, but only with regard to Alimony. The Pennsylvania Code sets out seventeen factors for courts to consider when determining whether alimony is necessary and if so, to what extent and duration. One of those factors is “the marital misconduct of either of the parties during the marriage.” There have certainly been cases where a spouse finds his or her potential claim to alimony either mitigated or obviated by their decision to “step out” of the marriage and engage in an extramarital affair. However, this trend is certainly on the decline. Additionally, the statute provides that, “the marital misconduct of either of the parties from the date of the final separation shall not be considered by the court in its determinations relative to alimony, except that the court shall consider the abuse of one party by the other party.”
If you are a party to a marriage where infidelity has lead to separation, it’s important that you know how to protect your rights heading into a divorce. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, please contact our office at (610) 892-3877.