Section 4321 of the Domestic Relations laws provides that married persons are liable for the support of each other according to their respective abilities to provide support as provided by law. Similar to child support, spousal support will be calculated based on a statewide guideline. Without children, spousal support is 40% of the difference of the net incomes of the parties. If there is also a child support order, spousal support will only be 30% of the difference of the net incomes.
One longstanding exception to the duty to pay spousal support is where the spouse seeking support has engaged in conduct that would constitute grounds for a fault-based divorce. The fault grounds under the Pennsylvania Divorce Code include: (1) willful and malicious desertion without reasonable cause for at least one year; (2) adultery; (3) cruel and barbarous treatment of an injured and innocent spouse; (4) bigamy; (5) imprisonment for at least two years after conviction of a crime; and (6) indignities to the innocent and injured spouse which makes that spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome.
Many cases have touched on the issue of whether spousal support is appropriate due to alleged existence of another relationship outside of the marriage. It is up to the spouse who is objecting to a spousal support award to prove a fault ground for divorce by clear and convincing evidence. Adultery is defined as voluntary sexual intercourse with a person other than his/her spouse. Alternatively, indignities may be established even when the evidence does not necessarily support adultery. “Indignities may consist of vulgarity, unmerited reproach, habitual contumely, studied neglect, intentional incivility, manifest disdain, abusive language, malignant ridicule, and every other plain manifestation of settled hate and estrangement.” A single act by a spouse will not support a finding of indignities. Instead, it must be a course of conduct that renders the life of the innocent party intolerable or burdensome.
Conduct which takes place after separation is generally not relevant, however, such conduct may be introduced if it will go to show the conduct began before separation. In one case, the evidence supported that Wife had not started dating someone new until three days after the divorce complaint was filed. Accordingly, the award for spousal support was appropriate because of the post-separation nature of the relationship. In a different case, the support award was upheld despite Wife’s conduct before separation. The evidence supported Wife’s contention that her relationship with a certain man other than her husband was strictly platonic. Even though she had been spotted with the man several times, there was no evidence that anything that would support fault grounds for divorce had occurred. In the same case, Husband also alleged desertion as a reason why he should not have to pay spousal support. This defense was overcome as well since Wife’s absence from the marital home was justified based on Husband’s emotional abuse. In most cases, there will not be a problem obtaining spousal support, however, parties should be careful of the timing of new relationships.