Does Committing Adultery Make Any Difference in Divorce Court in Pennsylvania?

by Shannon Johnson

    Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful is often the end to a marriage. In Pennsylvania, when a spouse files for divorce on the grounds of adultery, it may have some effect on an award of alimony or the division of marital assets. To prove adultery in court, keep proof of your spouse's adulterous actions such as emails, photographs and phone records. This evidence helps establish adultery as a ground for divorce.

    Adultery and Alimony

    Alimony in Pennsylvania is fundamentally based on one of the party's reasonable financial need for it. Judges will contemplate 17 factors -- only one of which is adultery -- when deciding the amount and availability of alimony. Adultery has a minimal affect on an award of alimony when compared with the factors that center on financial considerations. Under Pennsylvania's clearly established law, alimony is geared to situations in which economic justice and the reasonable needs of the receiving party can be met only by awarding alimony.

    Adultery and Equitable Distribution of Property

    Under most circumstances, adultery has no effect on the distribution of marital assets. But if a spouse expends a significant amount of marital assets entertaining a paramour, there is a good chance the judge will treat those funds as an advance against marital property. For example, if one spouse buys a home or car for the extramarital partner, or takes expensive trips, the court will total the amount spent and reduce the other spouse's share of marital assets by that amount. Depending on the size of the amount spent on an extramarital affair, a spouse could potentially receive a zero share of the marital assets.

    Adultery and Legal Separation

    Having an affair after you stop living with your spouse as man and wife is usually not considered to be marital misconduct, so it is important to clearly communicate when separation actually takes place. You may do this in writing or by email to your spouse stating your intent to separate.

    Defenses to Adultery

    Pennsylvania law sets out certain defenses to a charge of adultery. If you can prove one of these defenses, the court will not consider adultery as a ground for divorce. The four statutory defenses to adultery are: your spouse has also engaged in an adulterous relationship; your spouse forgave you after learning of the affair; your spouse encouraged you to take part in prostitution and profited from it; or your spouse encouraged you to keep company that was likely to lead to adultery. If you depend on one or more of these defenses, make sure to include it in your response to your spouse's petition for divorce.

    About the Author

    Shannon Johnson graduated from Mercer University School of Law in 2000. She practiced law for five years before beginning her writing career. She currently writes for several legal and non-legal online publications. Johnson has also taught legal research and writing, music business law and entertainment law.

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