Defense to Spousal Support
A claim for spousal support may be denied 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.