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. There is a defense to the duty to pay spousal support 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.
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. Many cases have touched on the issue of whether spousal support is appropriate if the other party had another relationship outside of the marriage. In this scenario the spouse objecting could raise a defense by seeking to prove adultery or indignities. Adultery is defined as voluntary sexual intercourse with a person other than his/her spouse. “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. A party objecting to spousal support should be aware that conduct which takes place after separation is generally not relevant. It should only be introduced if you can show the conduct began before separation. Parties should be careful of the timing of new relationships if seeking spousal support.