Does Cheating Affect Divorce in Pennsylvania?
By Jennifer Williams
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The state of Pennsylvania recognizes adultery as a fault ground for divorce. This means it is the adulterous spouse's fault, due to his adulterous behavior, that the marriage is ending. While adultery rarely effects custody, visitation, child support or even marital property distribution, it can effect spousal support awarded before and during the divorce proceeding, and alimony awarded in the final divorce decree.
Adultery is generally defined as a married person engaging in sexual relations with a person other than his spouse. Pennsylvania law names adultery as a fault ground for divorce. If proven, the court can consider the adultery when deciding whether to award spousal support or alimony to the innocent spouse.
Once a spouse names adultery as a ground for divorce, she must prove that the other spouse engaged in sexual relations outside the marriage. Such proof might include pictures, names and dates from travel and hotel records, or even testimony from the individual with whom the adultery was committed. Adultery will not hold up in a Pennsylvania court as a ground for divorce, however, if the so-called innocent spouse also committed adultery, or if the innocent spouse forgave the adultery by taking the guilty spouse back into the marriage and the marriage bed.
Failing to Prove Adultery
Pennsylvania courts cannot grant a divorce based on a ground that is not proven. If the innocent spouse cannot prove adultery, she must replace it with a no-fault ground. Otherwise, the court has no choice but to deny the divorce. However, if the other spouse has filed his own petition for divorce, the divorce may continue based on his petition. If he names the no-fault ground, or proves his own fault ground, the court may grant the divorce by granting his petition.
Spousal Support and Temporary Alimony
In Pennsylvania, spousal support is an award of money, paid periodically, to a spouse after separation. Temporary alimony is only awarded after the divorce litigation begins and lasts until the divorce case is finished. The court can use an accusation of adultery as a reason not to award spousal support. However, that same spouse may be awarded temporary alimony after the divorce proceeding begins, even though she is accused of adultery.
Alimony is support awarded after the divorce. Pennsylvania law considers many factors in deciding whether to award alimony. While adultery is one of these factors, it may be overshadowed by the spouses' health and financial situations, as well as which spouse has custody of the children.
An attorney for more than 18 years, Jennifer Williams has served the Florida Judiciary as supervising attorney for research and drafting, and as appointed special master. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Jacksonville University, law degree from NSU's Shepard-Broad Law Center and certificates in environmental law and Native American rights from Tulsa University Law.