Rankin v. Rankin
181 Pa. Super. 414 (1956)

Facts:

  • Husband brought action for divorce on ground of cruel and barbarous treatment, indignities to the person, and desertion. Husband alleged:
    • Cruel and barbarous: On one occasion while they were riding in a car with Wife driving, she stated: “I am going to kill you, you son of a bitch” and proceeded to drive the car at a high rate of speed. On this occasion plaintiff succeeded in slowing down the car by turning the ignition key, following which he jumped from the car; thereupon defendant attempted to run him down.
    • Indignities to the person: Wife’s attitude toward plaintiff was one of marked antipathy; she called him vile and opprobrious names without provocation; she refused to have children; she had the furniture, with the exception of the box springs and mattress, removed from plaintiff’s bedroom; she was frequently absent from the home without explanation; she spit in his face and tried to strike him with a chair; she threw hot water on plaintiff; and another time threatened him with a butcher knife.

Issue:
Whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain findings that wife was guilty of cruel and barbarous treatment, indignities to the person, or desertion.

Holding:
No.

Reasoning:

  • Cruel and barbarous:
    • The term “cruel and barbarous treatment” comprises actual personal violence or a reasonable apprehension thereof, or such a course of treatment as endangers life or health and renders cohabitation unsafe.
      • A single instance of cruelty may be so severe, and with such attending circumstances of atrocity, as to justify a divorce.
    • Here, however, the court found that the car incident was categorically denied by appellant, was entirely uncorroborated, and was utterly improbable.
  • Indignities to the person:
    • In a proceeding for divorce on the grounds of indignities, it must clearly appear from the evidence that the plaintiff was the injured and innocent spouse.
    • Here, however, that wasn’t the case. There was evidence that the husband was just as bad, if not worse:
      • Assault and battery, profanity, etc.
  • “The fact that married people do not get along well together does not justify a divorce. Testimony which proves merely an unhappy union, the parties being high strung temperamentally and unsuited to each other and neither being wholly innocent of the causes which resulted in the failure of their marriage, is insufficient to sustain a decree. If both are equally at fault, neither can clearly be said to be the innocent and injured spouse, and the law will leave them where they put themselves.”
  • This case shows how extreme and rigid divorce used to be.

This was an example of recrimination – a defense in an action for divorce in which the accused party makes a similar accusation against the plaintiff.

  • If you’re seeking a divorce, and you yourself are at fault, you’re not getting the divorce.

This has been expressly limited or abolished by statute or case law in most states.