In this divorce case, the husband appealed the trial court’s decision to grant spousal support to the wife notwithstanding her adultery, based on the court’s finding that manifest injustice would otherwise result. The appellant and the appellee were married for 20 years and had two children. The appellant had a stable career in the trucking business and earned $250,000 per year and had assets totaling more than $6 million. The appellee was the primary caretaker for the children and worked part-time as a receptionist earning $10 an hour. She did not contest that she had an affair for at least five years during the marriage. The court noted, however, that the evidence “portrayed the appellant as a profane and verbally abusive man,” who frequented “strip joints and topless bars,” and frequently boasted and bragged about these experiences in lewd terms in front of the appellee and their children. He was also verbally abusive to his children. Several witnesses testified that “they had never once seen [him] show any affection or any kindness toward [his wife],” and that he “chronically complained” to the appellee and others about her “weight, appearance, housekeeping, and spending habits.” The trial court explained that Va. Code § 20-107.1(B)the law precludes an award of support to any spouse found guilty of adultery, subject to narrow exceptions, including when the trial court determines from “clear and convincing evidence, that denial of support and maintenance would constitute manifest injustice, based upon the respective degrees of fault during the marriage or relative economic circumstances of the parties. The question before the court was whether the trial court committed a reversible error in stating that the statutory standard for deciding if a denial of support and maintenance constitutes a manifest injustice involved considering “either” the respective degrees of fault during the marriage “or” the relative economic circumstances of the parties. In affirming the ruling of the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred, but also that it was a harmless error as it was supported by facts that satisfied the correct standard. The court determined that the proper standard for determining if a denial of spousal support would constitute a manifest injustice must consider “both” the comparative economic circumstances “and” the respective degrees of fault, i.e., the test was a conjunctive test rather than the disjunctive test used by the trial court. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling under correct test. With respect to the relative degrees of fault, the Court of Appeals explained that adultery was not dispositive and that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that appellant’s severe and longstanding abusive conduct went beyond “mere incivility or petulance” and tipped the scales in appellee’s favor. Moreover, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s finding of “extreme disparities” in the relative economic situations of the parties. Consequently, the trial court erred in stating the standard for determining if a denial of spousal support would cause manifest injustice as requiring either economic disparities or fault instead of both factors, but the error was harmless as the factual findings addressed both factors under the appropriate standard.
Women and Justice: Keywords
The appellant and the appellee were married for 21 years and had three children. After the birth of their first child, by mutual agreement of the parties, the appellee stopped working and became a homemaker and the children’s primary caregiver. In adjudicating couple’s separation agreement, the trial court ordered the appellant to pay the appellee spousal support in addition to child support pursuant to statutory guidelines. On appeal, the appellant raised several arguments including that the trial court failed to exclude child-related expenses that he already had to pay for through child support awarded to appellee and that the court erred in refusing to impute income to appellee even though she was voluntarily unemployed. With respect to the first argument, the court affirmed the trial court’s conclusion, explaining that expenses that are indivisible by nature or trivial in amount need not be segregated. Although “some of wife’s claimed expenses did indeed include expenses attributable to the children, such as Internet service fees, utilities, and food,” those expenses were properly included in the spousal support award because they were “indivisible by their very nature.” With respect to the trial court’s refusal to impute income to the appellee, the court explained that “the law does not require wife return to work immediately upon divorce to avoid judicial imputation of income merely because she has provable earning capacity at the time of the divorce.” Rather, any decision to impute income must be done “within a review of all the statutory factors concerning spousal support.” Under the circumstances, the court found the trial court’s refusal to impute income to the appellee to be supported by the facts, given that the appellant had been the sole monetary contributor for the entire duration of their marriage, the appellee had left her nursing career in order to be a full-time homemaker and caregiver for their children, and the family moved eight times over the course of the marriage in order to enable the appellant to pursue and advance his military career. Thus, the refusal to impute any income to her was not an error.
Mrs. Petlane, the plaintiff, sued her husband, alleging that he abused her regularly and caused her to leave their marital home. The plaintiff sought relief from the physical abuse, custody of the parties’ minor child, spousal support, and child support. The defendant did not allege an inability to provide for his wife and child, but insisted that they live together if he was going to provide that support. First, the High Court found that it had jurisdiction because the parties had a civil marriage rather than a customary marriage, as the defendant claimed. Then the Court held that Mr. Petlane could not compel his wife to return home, which would risk more physical abuse, by refusing to support her financially. Because his abusive behavior drove her out of the marital home, the court ordered Mr. Petlane to make regular spousal and child support payments to Mrs. Petlane.
The parties, Polish immigrants, divorced in Canada after approximately 25 years of marriage. The wife had a seventh grade education and no special skills or training. During the marriage, in addition to caring for their 3 children and the house, she worked evenings cleaning offices. After the separation, she was awarded custody of the children and received $150 per month spousal and child support and continued to work cleaning offices. The husband remarried in 1984 and continued to pay support to his former wife. She was laid off in 1987 and, as a result of an application to vary, her spousal and child support was increased to $400. She was later able to secure part-time and intermittent cleaning work. In 1989, the husband was granted an order terminating support. The trial judge found that the former wife had had time to become financially independent and that her husband had supported her as long as he could be required to do. The Court of Appeal set aside the judgment and ordered spousal support in the amount of $150 per month for an indefinite period. The matter was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to determine whether the wife was entitled to ongoing support for an indefinite period of time or whether spousal support should be terminated. The Supreme Court of Canada determined that spousal support should continue and that termination of spousal support, pursuant to sec. 17 of the Divorce Act, should consider the recipient’s disadvantaged economic status as a result of the marriage breakdown both at the time of breakdown and as it may continue, rather than a simple “sink or swim” policy premised on the wife’s having had sufficient time to become self-sufficient. This decision has provided considerable protection from impoverishment for recently divorced women.
The petitioner-wife sought dissolution of her marriage on the grounds of abuse by the respondent-husband, who repeatedly physically abused her and threatened her with physical force when she tried to stop him from drinking. She also asked for maintenance for the couple's daughter. The Court granted the dissolution of marriage and noted that the types of mistreatment the petitioner suffered at the hands of her husband constituted gender-based violence as defined by the Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women because it was based on the unequal power relations between the husband and wife and caused the petitioner serious psychological suffering.