Divorce lies at the confluence of Character and Money; two streets that don’t intersect snugly. Time and again, as lawyers we are asked to “expose” the character of the other spouse so the Court may fully appreciate what a lowlife you chose as your life partner. Read that last sentence a second time and realize its inherent inconsistency. With some limitations we will attempt to do what you ask because we are the lawyers and this is your divorce that we are handling. But before spending a king’s ransom on this illusory goal, take some time to think about a couple of factors.
First, since 1980 Pennsylvania is a “no fault” jurisdiction. Marital misconduct, weird behavior, kinky obsessions do not matter. The evidentiary term is that these things are irrelevant. There is one exception. Marital misconduct is supposed to be a factor in deciding alimony. The Divorce Code says so. But ask trial judges and hearing officers how they evaluate marital misconduct and more often than not the response is a shrug. “If husband cheated on wife but husband testifies that wife would not have sex with him for years before the event, what am I supposed to do?” How much is adultery worth? Judges feel comfortable trying to assess things like how much a person can earn and what expenses or needs are reasonable but if a wife belittled husband in front of their friends for ten years, should she get less. So the result is that while marital misconduct is “relevant” in deciding and alimony award, it usually means very little. There is one exception and it actually affects asset distribution as well. If one spouse burned through assets while in the course of “entertaining” a love interest, those assets are often treated as an advance to the spouse who spent them. We have represented both the victims and the perpetrators in these cases. Most recently, a husband lost his job and, while telling his wife that he had secured alternate work as an independent contractor, the fact s turned out to show that he was spending their life savings while he flew around the country and entertained a number of different women. Not modestly either. Limousines, four star hotels and daily floral deliveries all turned up on the credit cards. By the time we added all of these indulgences and tallied them as advances to the husband, Wife ended up with 90% of the remaining assets. Husband decided that he preferred not to sit through a trial where these various trips and engagements would be explored in detail and the case settled. But this is the exception and not the rule.
In most cases, what we hear is that one spouse refused to work, or spent money too freely or demanded that the couple buy the stupid timeshare in the place that no one ever goes to. If this behavior represents a complete shift in character it may get some consideration from a court. But, more often than not, when lawyers try whining about these issues to judges they are told (outside the open courtroom) “So what do you want me to do; he married her and they stayed together for ten years in a state of perfect antipathy.” After all, it’s no fault.
So the argument that the court will side with one party versus the other once a court gets the flavor of just how evil your ex has become really tends to be oversold by clients. At the end of the day, the real factors that matter are how much each party can expect to earn between now and retirement, how much there is to divide now and what each party contributed to creating the marital pot. Parties obviously love to fight over the last subject with the higher earning spouse pointing out that he or she made most of the money. But, if the other spouse stepped away from the economic wheel of fortune to raise children, most courts will view that as a major contribution on par with 10 hour work days and constant business travel. Character does matter, but not in the way that most litigants would like it to.