Benscoter v. Benscoter
200 Pa. Super. 251 (1963)

Facts:

  • Husband filed for divorce on the ground of indignities to the person (i.e., cruelty).
  • He and his wife were married in 1946 and had four sons.
  • His main complaint was that the wife expressed her disappointment in failing to have a female child and that she verbally abused him and blamed him for this failure.
  • However, this misconduct was only sporadic. Additionally, they lived together for 15 years and he’s just now bringing this up.
    • Note: The wife was diagnosed with M.S. in 1958 and there was evidence that the husband was running around on her – taking more pride in his appearance, keeping condoms in his wallet, and had stains in his underwear. He basically tried to come up with something to get him out of the marriage.

History:
The lower court dismissed the complaint.

Issue:
Whether the husband suffered such indignities as would entitle him to a divorce.

Holding:
No. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • Cruelty requires a course of conduct that becomes intolerable and burdensome.
  • Here, as mentioned, the wife’s conduct was only sporadic. Moreover, it was the result of her condition, which the court addressed:
    • “Ill health both explains and excuses a wife’s conduct and the acts of a spouse resulting from ill health do not furnish a ground for divorce.”
  • “The parties to a marriage take each other for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. The conclusion is inescapable that the plaintiff did not become dissatisfied with his wife until she became ill with multiple sclerosis. He cannot now discard her.”
  • In short, he was NOT the injured and innocent spouse here.
  • This case is very different from how divorce law is today.

Rule: Cruelty requires a course of conduct that becomes intolerable and burdensome.

Rule: The acts of a spouse resulting from ill health do not furnish a ground for divorce.