Word on the street is that Pennsylvania is a “No-fault” divorce state, but what does that mean? For practical purposes, it means that instead of having to allege one spouse committed adultery, made the other spouse’s life intolerable through personal indignities, abandoned the marriage and/or inflicted cruel and barbarous treatment against the other spouse (who was “injured and innocent”), an avenue was opened to allow people to leave marriages they were no longer interested in without having to spend tons of money on lawyers fighting over WHY the marriage should end. For every offense, there was a defense….allegations of adultery might be met with allegations of abandonment, allegations of abandonment might be met with allegations of allegations of cruel and barbarous treatment….all resulting in lots of time, effort and money being spent just to allow the parties to establish GROUNDS for divorce. And, if a divorce was not granted because it was successfully defended on fault grounds, two unhappily married people remained unhappily married (including, all too often, abusive dynamics).
When Pennsylvania joined the no-fault movement in 1980, the goal was to allow parties who had come to an end of their relationship a way to conclude their relationship on the basis of simply figuring out the economics. Of course, the emotionality of relationships means there will often be mixed motivations even in the context of no-fault divorces, too often involving vindictiveness in child custody and support disputes, but those elements could always be a part of the fault divorce picture in any event.
So, fault is always involved in a case of domestic abuse. Sometimes, however rarely, however, a victim can falsely accuse. So, nothing is simple, but the standard tools of the courtroom, figuring out how much who is telling the truth more often than not, and applying the Rules of Evidence, will help a court decide such issues. And in cases of obvious abuse, emergency interventions can take place to prevent an abuser from having contact with a spouse and/or children, and can, if allegations are founded, result in her or him losing the right to have access to family members whom they subjected to abuse, but to firearms also, indefinitely.
Fault is also one of the factors considered in determining whether or not alimony is appropriate. In general, when there is adequate property to divide such that each of the parties would be in a position to move forward with an equitable division of assets, and there is not a huge difference in the parties’ incomes, an award of alimony may not come into play. If, in a long-term marriage, where one party chose against advancing her or his career options to act primarily as a homemaker and to focus on raising the children, for example, while the other party enjoyed a significant earnings advantage by the end of the marriage; even if there was not much property to divide, alimony might be appropriate.
In its current state, divorce law in Pennsylvania is allowing more and more for parties to “save themselves the cost of a lawyer” by representing themselves. There are cases where this is absolutely appropriate and any lawyer, after a free consultation, should be able to tell you so. But there are still cases where legal nuances are important to understand, the means of finding out information that would otherwise remain hidden forever become important, and court intervention is the only way to get certain actors to act in a way that is reasonable. So, whatever you do, do not let the “Fault” in your divorce be your failure to consult a qualified family law attorney when doing so would have protected your rights. Seek out an attorney who will give you a free consult BEFORE you decide to go it alone. That simple choice could make a huge difference in your case and your life.