Post-separation behavior effects on divorce, support

There are varying opinions about when and how to move on to a new relationship prior to the entry of the divorce decree. A couple is often emotionally, physically and even financially divorced by the time they even file their divorce complaint; however, this is not always the case. Post-separation behavior does not normally affect the outcome of divorce or support award; however, there are several ways it could.

A recent 2012 case decided by Pennsylvania Court addressed the notion of post-separation behavior in relation to an award for spousal support. In his appeal, the husband argued that the trial court erred by dismissing his exceptions and granting the wife spousal support. Husband contended that he should not be obligated to pay spousal support - he argued that post-separation behavior was evidence of an extramarital affair which may have occurred during the marriage.

His argument was based upon the exception that if the recipient spouse conducts him or herself in a manner that would constitute fault based divorce, there would be no obligation to pay that person spousal support.

These are the grounds for fault-based divorce, which are also applicable to assess whether or not a spouse is eligible for an award of spousal support:

§ 3301. Grounds for divorce.

(a) Fault.--The court may grant a divorce to the innocent and injured spouse whenever it is judged that the other spouse has:

(1) Committed willful and malicious desertion, and absence from the habitation of the injured and innocent spouse, without a reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years.

(2) Committed adultery.

(3) By cruel and barbarous treatment, endangered the life or health of the injured and innocent spouse.

(4) Knowingly entered into a bigamous marriage while a former marriage is still subsisting.

(5) Been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of two or more years upon conviction of having committed a crime.

(6) Offered such indignities to the innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse's condition intolerable and life burdensome.

The post-separation behavior of a spouse is not normally judged according to the above grounds for fault-based divorce. The husband was not able to provide evidence that wife's other relationship existed prior to separation. His argument was based upon the notion that the husband was subjected to indignities based upon the post-separation extramarital affair; however, there was no evidence to prove that the wife’s post-separation behavior linked to pre-separation conduct. S.M.C. v. W.P.C., 44 A.3d 1181 (Pa.Super. 2012)

In this case, the husband was to pay spousal support as there was no proof that he suffered indignities or that adultery occurred; however, the case provided more insight into when and how to apply fault-based divorce grounds during separation. It can be a difficult time for both parties, and post-separation behavior can be a game-changer when it comes to the divorce or in a support. Had the husband in this case been able to prove that the relationship existed prior to separation and that the wife committed adultery, the wife would not be awarded spousal support.

If you are separated or considering divorce, contact the experienced Bucks County divorce lawyers at the Law Offices of Michael Kuldiner, P.C. today, at (215) 297-4514. Or submit an online inquiry form and a member of our team will contact you to schedule a consultation.