What are Fault Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania fault grounds for divorce require the innocent and injured spouse to prove that he or she is innocent of marital misconduct and that he or she is injured by the guilty spouse’s misconduct. There are 7 major fault grounds for divorce: (1) desertion, by proof of willful and malicious absence from the marital home without reasonable cause for at least 1 year; (2) adultery, proof by clear and convincing evidence that the other spouse had the opportunity and inclination to commit adultery; (3) cruel and barbarous treatment, a serious threat to life creating a reasonable apprehension of violence; (4) bigamy, upon proof that a spouse knowingly entering into a 2nd marriage while still legally married to another; (5) imprisonment, when the spouse is sentenced to imprisonment for 2 or more years upon conviction of a crime; (6) indignities, requiring proof of a course of conduct greater than a few isolated incidents rendering the innocent spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome; and, (7) insanity, where a spouse’s serious mental disorder results in confinement in a mental institution for 18 months with no reasonable prospect of discharge.

Since the implementation of no-fault grounds in the Divorce Code of 1980, fault grounds are used less frequently in Pennsylvania divorce practice. Fault grounds are emotionally exhausting and messy for all concerned. Fault divorces are also disfavored because of the existence of possible defenses such as condonation, the forgiveness of a marital offense by either express words or implication by conduct; recrimination, where neither party can obtain a divorce because they are equally at fault; and provocation, where the plaintiff spouse provokes a defendant spouse into committing a fault offense. Other defenses to fault divorces include connivance, or the commission of a marital offense simply for the purpose of obtaining a divorce; and collusion, an expressed or implied agreement whose purpose is to secure a divorce. These last 2 possible defenses were made obsolete by the no-fault amendments in the 1980 divorce code.