Prior to June of 1980 when Pennsylvania’s no-fault divorce law was enabled, we had only fault divorce (and we still have it with us in addition to no-fault). In a fault divorce, the law requires that the plaintiff (the party filing the divorce action) give testimony in Court that establishes the grounds (the “fault”) for the divorce. Yes, that means testifying about what one finds so offensive about one’s spouse’s behavior that staying married is no longer tolerable. Virtually all fault divorces are uncontested and filed using our broadest grounds: Indignities. Indignities are as close as Pennsylvania law comes to incompatibility. Only the plaintiff shows up at the brief hearing and the testimony is heard by a Master in Divorce who is a lawyer appointed by the Court for that purpose. To establish indignities, the plaintiff’s testimony must prove that the defendant spouse has made the plaintiff’s life burdensome and the condition intolerable. Frankly, doing that doesn’t take much. Behavior like not being at home very much, doing nothing at home but watching TV, drinking beer every night until falling asleep in a chair in the living room, never helping with household chores, allowing the home to become filthy or in dire need of repair etc. all have gotten plaintiffs uncontested fault divorces. By the way, you may be wondering why there are very few contested fault divorces. Well, even UNcontested fault divorces cost several thousand dollars but contested fault cases easily go into tens of thousands; moreover, in a fault contested indignities divorce, the plaintiff must prove a deep estrangement and a settled hate. Think about those words for a moment. That is very heavy stuff.
Uncontested or contested, as should be clear, testimony is given in Court. That testimony is taken down, either by a stenographer or electronically, then transcribed into a typewritten paper record that is kept with the documents in the divorce action’s file. Typically, those files are public records and may be viewed by request at the courthouse where the files are kept… and anyone can go there, make that request and view all of the documents and even make copies of them. Obviously, anyone looking at such documents must stay near the clerk that made them available and the records, accordingly, do not go anywhere.
Remember, all of the above is about FAULT divorce actions, not about no-fault. The grounds for all no-fault divorces are absolutely identical: “The marriage is irretrievably broken”. That’s it. There is no further detail or explanation given or required by our law. Who broke the marriage or when or how just is not there. The divorce action’s records are just as available as they are for fault cases, but they are a lot less interesting. No one is blamed. That is what “no-fault” means and why no Court appearance is required in a Pennsylvania no-fault divorce action. Sure, one who files a no-fault divorce action will have reasons for doing so; however, the reasons will not be part of the proceedings. The reasons are absolutely no one’s business, not even the Court’s. It took Pennsylvania about 200 years to enact no-fault divorce and we were the next to the last state to do so. It is here to stay and makes getting a divorce, when both parties agree to end the marriage, so much less stressful and costly… and no dirty laundry needs to be made public.