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Pankoe v. Pankoe

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 29, 2019

RYAN PANKOE, Appellant

          Appeal from the Decree Entered March 25, 2019 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County Civil Division at No(s): 2017-FC-1286

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., SHOGAN, J. and STRASSBURGER, J. [*]


          STRASSBURGER, J.

         Ryan Pankoe (Husband) pro se appeals from the March 25, 2019 divorce decree entered in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas. Upon review, we affirm.

         Husband and Laura Pankoe (Wife) were married on October 18, 2009, in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and are the parents to two minor children. On September 27, 2017, Wife filed a complaint for divorce (the Complaint), which included a count for equitable distribution. Complaint, 9/27/2017. In the Complaint, Wife averred the parties separated on November 8, 2016, and had been living apart since that date. Id. at 2 (unnumbered). Additionally, Wife asserted that the marriage was irretrievably broken. Id. Thereafter, Husband was served a copy of the Complaint, and he subsequently filed an answer. Therein, Husband requested the trial court dismiss the Complaint, asserting the marriage was "not irretrievabl[y] broken nor ha[d] the parties lived separate and apart for one year since the filling of the [] Complaint." Answer to Complaint, 3/1/2018, at 2 (unnumbered).

         On November 27, 2018, a master's hearing was held before John Roberts, III, Esquire (Master). Both parties testified at the hearing. As summarized by the trial court:

[Wife] testified that she believed her marriage to [Husband] is irretrievably broken because:
[Husband] is emotionally and verbally abusive and that's not going to change. He is narcissistic. We tried marriage counseling. And it's clear to me that I'm not going to get through to him.
And his personality is the way it is. And I'm not going to keep putting myself in the situation I've been in. I'm done.
[Wife] testified that she had "no doubt whatsoever" that she wanted a divorce. [Wife] further testified that she felt [Husband] was emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusive during the marriage. [Wife] also testified that [Husband] did not acknowledge her opinions and feelings during the marriage. [Wife] further testified that based on her religious beliefs, she believed a divorce was warranted. Additionally, [Wife] testified that she is not pursuing any economic claims against [Husband]. [Wife] testified that she did not have an affair during the marriage.
[Husband] testified extensively about his religious beliefs and his belief that divorce is not appropriate for the parties. [Husband] testified that he did not believe the parties had "biblical grounds for divorce or infidelity or an unbelieving spouse walk away." [Husband] further argued that he and [Wife] entered into a Christian marriage contract, which Pennsylvania cannot invalidate. [Husband] argued that Pennsylvania recognizes that marriage is a religious contract and that Pennsylvania gives deference to the religious aspects of marriage contracts. [Husband] contends that the legislature does not have the authority to regulate marriage and divorce, especially no-fault divorce, because there is no compelling state interest.
[Husband] further testified that his "firmly held religious beliefs prevented [him] from starting a family under a marital contract that includes an exit plan option of unilateral no-fault divorce." [Husband] also argued that Pennsylvania courts do not have jurisdiction over the Christian marriage contract between him and [Wife] and that [23 Pa.C.S. §] 3301(d)[(section 3301(d))[1] fosters excessive governmental entanglement with the free exercise of religion. [Husband] further testified that he believed his church council needs to determine if there is sufficient estrangement between the parties, and issue some type of edict stating that the marriage is beyond repair.
At the conclusion of [Husband's] testimony, [Wife] stated that the statements made by [Husband] were "a huge example of abuse." [Wife] testified that [Husband's] promises to change did not sway her and that she still wants a divorce.

         Trial Court's Memorandum Opinion, 3/25/2019, at 3-5 (citations omitted). On December 6, 2018, the Master filed a report, recommending the trial court "grant the divorce expeditiously." Id. at 2.

On December 24, 2018, [Husband] filed exceptions to the [Master's report]. On December 28, 2018, [Husband] filed a statement "challenging subject matter jurisdiction amended." On January 7, 2019, [Husband] filed a notice of challenging constitutionality to Attorney General. On January 18, 2019, [Husband] filed a motion for summary judgment and brief in support. On February 15, 2019, [Wife] filed a brief contra to [Husband's] motion for summary judgment.
On February 22, 2019, [Husband] filed a reply brief to [Wife's] brief opposing motion for summary judgment. On February 27, 2019, th[e trial c]ourt held argument on the exceptions to the [Master's ...

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