Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Testimony revealed that appellant, a married man, had spent significant amounts of time away from his home with co-respondent, a woman in a separate marital relationship. Appellant’s wife was granted a divorce based on appellant’s adultery.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. To prove adultery through circumstantial evidence, it must be established that there was both an opportunity and a disposition to commit the act.
Facts. Appellant, William Lickle, was married in 1917 to respondent, Margaret Lickle. The parties had not cohabited for many years, although they resided in the same house. In 1937 appellant met Gordon Boone and his wife Edith, the co-respondent. While Gordon Boone was commissioned overseas in the navy, Appellant and Edith became increasingly intimate. Appellant was a frequent visitor to each of Edith’s four homes, and one of her maids testified that appellant was at one of the homes most of the time. Another maid testified that he stayed overnight several times a week at two of Edith’s later homes. Twice during the summer of 1943 appellant and Edith vacationed in Maryland. The first time appellant was accompanied by one of his sons, while Edith and one of her sons had rooms across the hall. The second trip involved appellant and Edith traveling together unaccompanied, with appellant registering for both. They occupied separate rooms but visited each other frequently, someti
mes after midnight. At another time appellant vacationed with Edith and two of her boys, registering the party as William Lickle and family. Gordon testified that he had not had sexual relations with his wife since September 1943. On three occasions while on furlough, she refused his advances. He suspected an adulterous relationship and confronted appellant, but appellant denied improper conduct. Appellant appeals a decree granting his wife a divorce a vinculo matrimonii, based on her charge of adultery.
Issue. Did the evidence support appellant’s wife’s charge of adultery?
Held. The conduct of appellant and Edith, both married individuals, is inconsistent with innocence. The court’s ruling is upheld.
In a divorce suit the burden of proof is on the complainant, but an adultery charge need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence must instead be so clear, satisfactory, and convincing as to lead the unprejudiced mind of a reasonable and prudent man to that conclusion.
Circumstantial evidence required to prove adultery must show: 1) an opportunity to commit the offense; 2) and a disposition to commit it. In the instant case appellant and co-respondent had numerous opportunities to commit adultery, and disposition to commit adultery may be inferred from the conduct of the parties and the surrounding circumstances.
Discussion. The Court provides a clear explanation of the burden of proof required to prove adultery in divorce and the requirements to find adultery occurred from circumstantial evidence. Based on the facts the Court found that sufficient circumstantial evidence was present to find that adultery had occurred.