Thursday, July 16, 2009

divorce - equitable distribution - rental credit - exclusion from home in PFA

Lee v. Lee - Pa. Superior Court - July 15, 2009

In divorce-related equitable distribution, when a spouse has been excluded from the marital home by a protection from abuse order, the other spouse may raise an equitable defense against the first spouse’s claim to rental credit for the time period in which the order was in effect.

There is no legal authority on point on the question of whether a PFA, or a spouse’s abusive behavior prompting a PFA, can be the basis of a meritorious equitable defense to an award of rental credit. However, the Divorce Code provides that its purpose is to “[e]ffectuate economic justice between parties who are divorced or separated . . . and insure a fair and just determination and settlement of their property rights.” 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3102(a)(6). Section 3323(f) provides: In all matrimonial causes, the court shall have full equity power and jurisdiction and may issue injunctions or other orders which are necessary to protect the interests of the parties or to effectuate the purposes of this part and may grant such other relief or remedy as equity and justice require against either party . . . . 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3323(f). “He who comes into a court of equity must come with clean hands.”

In this instance, it is clear that Husband’s behavior prompted the PFA, which in turn excluded him from the home. No matter the reason for Husband’s not living in the marital residence at a certain point in time, there is no dispute that as of the date of entry of the PFA order, he was precluded from even visiting the home. We therefore conclude that equity prohibits Husband from receiving a monetary credit from Wife for the time that he was excluded by the PFA, as the order was entered on the basis of his misbehavior toward her. Thus, we agree with Wife that Husband was not entitled to any rental credit after the PFA was issued against him.