Fault Grounds and Defenses

Pennsylvania has a mixed approach to divorce in that it still allows fault grounds in addition to no-fault grounds. 23 Pa CS 3301(a) lists the fault grounds for divorce as follows: (1) willful and malicious desertion, without reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years; (2) adultery; (3) cruel and barbarous treatment; (4) bigamy; (5) imprisonment following conviction for a term of two or more years; and (6) indignities to the point of life being intolerable and burdensome. The party alleging fault must prove its existence and must also establish they are the “innocent and injured spouse.”

Procedurally, when a fault ground is alleged the first step is to establish the fault has occurred. A motion for appointment of a master would need to be filed to enable a master to hear testimony on the claims. There are defenses or bars to fault grounds which could be raised. Recrimination is a defense on the basis that there is no innocent spouse and both spouses are guilty of faulty behavior. Provocation occurs where the “innocent” spouse provoked the other spouse into the faulty conduct. Comparable to provocation, connivance is a defense where it is alleged the “innocent” spouse helped to manufacture the fault grounds which are being sought. For example, on a claim of adultery, the innocent spouse hired a prostitute for their spouse. Finally, condonation is a claim that the fault ground has already been forgiven by the innocent spouse and the marital relationship resumed after the offense. After the fault grounds are established, the divorce matter can proceed on other ancillary claims such as equitable distribution.

Click here to read more on grounds for divorce.