Visitor Question

Intentional severe emotional distress…

Submitted By: Jackie (Pittsburgh, PA)

My husband and I were separating. We rented our house from his sister. She unlawfully locked me out twice, and sent me harassing and intimidating letters. She also interfered in many relationships that I had with family for over 28 years, including my daughter.

Trying to make me homeless, my bank account was left in the red by my husband. He left all the bills and no food. I’ve had several breakdowns during this time. I went to doctors. They increased my meds and added new ones, my blood pressure was extremely high.

I found out she’s helping him hide money within the close circle of her friends and he is having an affair with her best friend. What are my legal rights/options in this situation? What can I do about this? Should I get an attorney? Thanks for any information you can provide.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.


Dear Jackie,

Pennsylvania is not a community property state. It’s an “equitable distribution” state. This means by law all property acquired during the marriage, regardless of whose name it is in, or who purchased it, is part of the marital estate and is subject to equitable distribution upon divorce.

“Equitable distribution” means a judge will look at various factors which affect the distribution. For example, if one spouse is retaining custody of a child of the marriage, or one spouse needs continuing medical attention, the judge may award that spouse a greater percentage of the marital estate.

Examples of a marital estate subject to equitable distribution include a home, business assets, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, and other investments, furniture, art, and cars purchased or received during the marriage.

Just as the property is part of the marital estate and subject to equitable distribution, so are the debts acquired during the marriage. Factors influencing which spouse pays the debts, or a percentage of the debts, will be determined by ability to pay, a comparison of wages earned, job security, and like factors.

However, property acquired by one spouse before the marriage is “separate property.” Separate property is not part of the marriage estate and is therefore not subject to equitable distribution.

If you believe the amount of money being hidden by your husband or his sister is substantial, then you will likely need to retain an attorney to file your divorce. Without legal representation, you may never know how much money your husband is hiding, or where that money is.

An attorney can issue a subpoena to your husband ordering he state exactly how much cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, and other property he may have in plain view and what amounts are hidden. The same goes for the debts you may not know about. In a deposition, your husband will be under oath and subject to perjury if he doesn’t tell the truth.

Additionally, once a divorce is filed, you and your husband will have to follow Pennsylvania law (Rule 1920.75). This is an inventory of assets and debts for you and your husband. Purposely failing to disclose assets and debts can subject the spouse doing so to contempt of court.

Unfortunately, there is little you can do about your husband’s sister’s letters. From the facts you present, unless the letters threatened you with physical harm, the sister has committed no crime.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: September 9, 2015

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One thought on “Intentional severe emotional distress…

  1. I am 80 years old and live by myself and live on a fixed income. There was a terrible leak in my wall in my kitchen and my bathroom which led to a terrible black fly problem and a mold problem, that my condo association did not want to repair.

    After almost a year and half and threatening to go to court, a new condo association came in and admitted to responsibility and will now pay for physical damage.

    However there is still question of pain and suffering from the emotional despair that I will be suing them for. I have gone to a psychiatrist and am taking meds for anxiety and depression as a result of this problem and the horrible treatment by the condo assoc.

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