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How does adultery affect a Pennsylvania divorce?

by | May 3, 2021 | Divorce |

A cheating spouse can destroy a marriage, and adultery plays a large role in many Pennsylvania divorces. It can also change the shape and trajectory of those divorces.

Since California made the first no-fault divorces legal in 1969, all fifty States have adopted no-fault divorce laws, including Pennsylvania. This means that couples can get divorced for any reason that might lead to an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. No one needs to prove their spouse cheated on them to get divorced. However, people in Pennsylvania can still choose to cite adultery as the reason for their divorces. If they do, that changes the way the divorce is handled.

Fault-based divorce versus no-fault divorce

Every divorce in Pennsylvania needs a reason or “grounds.” The law allows for divorces based on:

  • An irretrievable breakdown of the marriage
  • Insanity or a serious mental disorder leading to one spouse’s extended confinement
  • One spouse’s harmful actions or failures

However, there’s a significant difference between saying that your marriage is irretrievably broken due to your spouse’s actions and proving that your spouse is at fault for your divorce. For starters, to prove your spouse is to blame, you need to prove your spouse did one or more of the following:

  • Intentionally deserting you for one year or longer
  • Endangering your life
  • Bigamy
  • A jail sentence of two or more years
  • Treating you, the innocent spouse, with such indignity as to make your life intolerable
  • Adultery

In other words, if you prove your spouse committed adultery, that can be the reason for your divorce, but it does require you to prove the adultery. Such divorces tend to invite extra conflict, and many couples file for no-fault divorce, even if adultery played a part.

Adultery, child custody and child support

Pennsylvania courts review many factors before they decide how to award child custody. However, these factors are all based on the child’s best interests. Unless the adultery results in harm to the child, it won’t likely factor into custody considerations.

Similarly, the court reviews several factors when it sets the amount of any child support payments. With a few exceptions for “extraordinary circumstances,” these factors all focus on the parents’ net earnings and monthly incomes. Adultery does not typically factor in.

Adultery and property division

Pennsylvania specifically prohibits the consideration of “marital misconduct” as it looks to property division. However, it does account for any actions one spouse may have taken to squander the other’s assets. If the adultery included significant expenses toward an affair, those expenses may factor into the property division.

Adultery and spousal support

Spousal support, or alimony, is one part of the divorce more likely to be affected by adultery. As it does with most things, the court weighs a long list of different factors when it decides if and how to award alimony. These include the length of the marriage and each party’s:

  • Relative earnings
  • Age and condition
  • Sources of income, including medical insurance, retirement funds and benefits
  • Standard of living
  • Education and earning potential
  • Contribution to the other’s education and earning potential
  • Relative needs

Again, adultery does not factor into the list. Abusive behavior does, but other forms of marital misconduct generally do not. This means that if your divorce would leave your former spouse disadvantaged, you may need to pay alimony. Even if there was adultery. However, there is an important exception. The law prevents the court from awarding alimony to anyone who committed adultery.

Is it worth claiming adultery is the root of the divorce?

In most cases, people file for no-fault divorces because they’re simpler and easier. Fault-based divorces can be both expensive and emotionally taxing. You need to provide enough evidence to convince the court of your spouse’s marital misconduct, and you might expect your spouse to argue against you.

Still, in some cases, the extra effort and expense can pay off in the long run. It can mean that you don’t pay alimony to someone who cheated on you. In turn, you may end up in a better emotional place, with less resentment, and with a better overall financial outcome.