Splitting Up and Splitting Property? Adultery May Not Matter.

As divorce lawyers in Pennsylvania, we meet with many clients. At the first meeting, clients often share the story of how their spouse has wronged them and the marital misconduct they have endured: adultery, mental or physical abuse, mistreatment of children, abandonment, and more.

The truth is that those circumstances and wrongs may not matter under Pennsylvania Divorce Law.

How can this be the case? Will the wrongs you have endured result in you receiving custody, child support, and spousal support, as well as a favorable property settlement? Much of it depends on the case and how receptive your spouse is to divorce.

Pennsylvania recognizes four grounds for divorce: fault, institutionalization, mutual consent and irretrievable breakdown. It is important to realize the question of whether you are entitled to a decree in divorce is separate and apart from the question of how the court divides your assets. For the typical mutual consent or irretrievable breakdown divorce case, the court will grant a divorce without requiring a hearing on any other grounds.

So, if a spouse is unfaithful and the innocent spouse files for divorce, the adulterous spouse may readily accept the divorce, thus negating the need for a hearing to show fault. His or her adultery would not matter in this divorce case.

What about when it comes to property settlement and dividing marital assets? Are property and assets divided based upon which spouse wronged the other or are they divided equally?

The answer is neither. Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. Pennsylvania law divides marital property and debts equitably, not necessarily equally, based on eleven factors. Martial misconduct, such as adultery or abuse is not a factor. With alimony and spousal support, martial misconduct may be considered, but often other economic factors are considered with heavier weight.

This means that if a spouse has given up her career to support her spouse, or stays home to care for children and her spouse abandons the marriage and commits adultery, the Court cannot consider this infidelity in equitable distribution. If a spouse physically abuses his wife and mistreats his children, this cannot be contemplated for equitable distribution purposes.

However, Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk, LLC has observed local decisions where good lawyering has convinced the Court to distribute the property in significant proportions to the injured spouse, based upon other well-developed factors in the case.

We have witnessed large awards of marital property when cases emphasized the factor that requires the Court to consider “the contribution to the education or training of the other spouse.” Both spouses had supported the other spouse through graduate school only to find that once one of the spouses began to reap the benefits of their professional degree, committed adultery and abandoned the supporting spouse. Another case in which a spouse received a higher percentage of the marital estate was based upon the factor of the spouse’s large contributions to the marital estate, not the physical abuse she suffered and protection from abuse order she had obtained.

Admittedly, the break up of the marriage is usually a contribution of both spouses, but Pennsylvania’s no-fault divorce laws are critical.

Some people choose to represent themselves instead of using a divorce lawyer in PA. Keep in mind that self-represented litigants are held to the same standards as attorneys that have been admitted to the bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. You will be expected to understand and follow statewide and local Rules of Court. Additionally, if you or your lawyer fail to raise a claim for alimony, division of property, or expenses in your divorce complaint, you will lose all right to make claims for spousal support and property settlement when the divorce decree is entered.

The divorce lawyers at Lepley, Engelman, Yaw & Wilk have more than twenty-five years of experience handling domestic relations issues, like divorce, child custody, spousal and child support and property settlement, and have managed thousands of cases. If you are considering a divorce, contact us for consultation.

Check out other articles by Lepley, Engelman, Yaw & Wilk


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