Requirements for divorce in Pennsylvania
For a divorce in Pennsylvania, your spouse or you must have lived in the state at least 6 months before applying for a divorce.
In Pennsylvania, there are 3 types of divorce:
Based on 2-year separation
Fault divorce, where one of the spouses is at fault.
Grounds for a PA divorce
When it comes to family law and divorce, Pennsylvania is quite a unique commonwealth. The Divorce Code in Pennsylvania was amended in 2005 and now allows divorce on “fault”, as well as “no-fault” grounds.
If you file for divorce on the grounds of fault, then you must establish one of the following categories:
Barbarous and cruel treatment
Usually, most couples do not file for divorce on fault grounds because while the court may consider fault in determining the alimony, it is not considered in equitable distribution. Also, divorce on fault grounds is a much more extensive process and is also very expensive.
So, most couples usually opt for a “no-fault” divorce that is by mutual consent of both spouses or by action taken by one spouse, where both spouses have lived separately for a period of 1 year.
In Pennsylvania, there isn’t a concept of legal separation. However, the date of separation of both spouses is important to decide on things such as division of marital property, support, etc. Usually, separation is established by the stopping of any sexual relationship, separation of finances and showing to the community that they are living apart and separately.
Step 1: Starting your Pennsylvania divorce
Both spouse agree
If you agree with your spouse that you want a divorce, then you can apply for divorce by mutual consent. Once you file the divorce complaint, you must wait for around 90 days for the divorce to be finalized. Both your spouse and you must write a statement stating that your marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be mended. This type of divorce is also known as the “no-fault” divorce.
Both spouses don’t agree
In the case that your spouse or you want a divorce and the other does not, then the plaintiff can go ahead with the divorce process even without the consent of the other person, if both of you have been separated for a period of at least 2 years before you can file for divorce. Like in a mutual consent divorce, here also the plaintiff claims that the marriage is broken irretrievably and cannot be saved.
Spouse at fault
The third way to get a divorce in Pennsylvania is when the plaintiff states that the defendant is the cause for the failure of their marriage in the divorce complaint. The law of Pennsylvania State recognizes that certain grounds or marital problems validate a divorce. However, using grounds makes it necessary that you hire a lawyer to handle the divorce proceedings.
Filing the Divorce Complaint
This is the 1st step of the divorce process and the Divorce Complaint is essentially a legal document which when filed with the court starts the legal divorce process. In the 1st step, the following forms must be submitted:
Notice to Defend: This is a standard form, which is submitted along with any document filed in a court in Pennsylvania.
Counseling Notice: This form recognizes that the plaintiff knows about the legal counseling options for the divorce filing.
Complaint in Divorce: This form requests the court to get your divorce on record.
Verification Form: This form confirms that you are seeking a divorce and all the information submitted is correct.
Copy of Marriage Certificate
Family Court Cover Sheet
Step 2: Serving your spouse
In order to provide both parties an equal opportunity to present their position to the court, your spouse must be notified about the divorce to make it legal. This process is called Service of Process and in Pennsylvania this legal notice may be fulfilled by:
An attorney (if uncontested)
Hire a Process server
Once you have served your spouse with the divorce complaint, they will have 30 days to respond to defend themselves. If this is a non-contested divorce, your spouse who receives the paperwork will not need to respond.
Filing the Acceptance of Service
In this step, you need to submit the following form: Form of Acceptance: This shows that the defendant acknowledges all the forms that they have been served and that he/she is aware that a divorce complaint has been filed.
Step 3: Contested or uncontested Pennsylvania divorce?
Contested Divorce (High Cost)
In the case of a Pennsylvania contested divorce, if your spouse and you are unable to come to an agreement on issues such as division of marital property, child custody and support, alimony, etc., then both your spouse and you will have to hire attorneys who will present your case before the county court. The court will take the final decision on all the issues that your spouse and you are unable to agree about. Typically, contested divorces and the litigation process can take more than a year to be completed. Contested divorces are high cost as you will have to incur attorney fees, which can be quite expensive.
Uncontested Divorce (Low Cost)
An uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania means that there’s no dispute between your spouse and you regarding the various issues pertaining to the divorce i.e. property division, child custody and support, spousal support, alimony, etc. In an uncontested divorce, you can reach an agreement with your spouse outside the courtroom, which can help to save time, as well as money.
For an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania, all you require is that you or your spouse should have been a resident of Pennsylvania for a period of 6 months or more. You can file for divorce under the no-fault “mutual consent” grounds, which essentially means that both of you agree to the divorce on basis of the fact that your marriage is irretrievably broken.
Step 4: Do it yourself or hire an attorney?
The do-it-yourself solution is ideal for an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania, where you do not require a lawyer. You can simply complete all the requisite forms and print them out instantly, including the marital settlement agreement. You can then follow the requisite procedures and file your divorce quickly and without any hassles.
Pennsylvania does not have an option of online divorce. However, you can make use of an online divorce service to start the process in the case of a no-fault divorce. These services are a quick way to get all your divorce papers completed in hours instead of days, and to get start the cost is very low ( Our favorite provider is 3stepdivorce.com)
The first step is for you to take a questionnaire to find out if you qualify for a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania. Filling in the online divorce forms is a quick and easy process. Once you fill the forms, you can review them along with your spouse for accuracy and completeness.
If there is a dispute, you can settle it with the help of mediation and continue filling in the forms. Once both your spouse and you are in complete agreement with all the terms, then you can sign the forms and once this is done, you can check with the online service about the appropriate court and file your papers there.
Step 5: Figuring out the major issues
Division of Property in Pennsylvania Divorce
When it comes to the division of property after divorce, Pennsylvania is a state that follows the equitable distribution of property. And to determine the distribution of property, the court will consider many factors like the duration of marriage, both your ages, health, earning capacity of both spouses, etc.
It must also be determined as to which of the assets are marital property. Typically, marital property is all the property which is acquired by both spouses while they are married and prior to their divorce. Any property, inheritances and gifts that either of the spouses has acquired or received before marriage and after the divorce are not included as marital property.
Any property which has been excluded by entering an agreement such as a prenuptial agreement is also not considered as part of the marital property. Both spouses must submit a complete list of all their assets as part of the inventory and appraisement pleading. This helps both spouses to compile their MSA or Marriage Settlement Agreement, which determines the final distribution of all marital property.
Child Custody in Pennsylvania
The child custody actions can be initiated as a completely separate proceeding from the divorce or support process in Pennsylvania, which is completely different from other states.
Before initiating any action for child custody, both spouses will be required to attend mediation and/or educational sessions. Child custody is an extremely sensitive area and the court will determine the suitable schedule on the basis of the best interest of the child/children.
Spousal Support and Maintenance in Pennsylvania
There are essentially 3 types of spousal support in Pennsylvania:
APL or Alimony Pendente Lite, which means alimony pending litigation
Alimony Pendente Lite (APL)
This is a temporary support order which is given to a spouse while the divorce proceedings are underway. APL basically gives both the spouses an equal opportunity to defend, litigate and maintain the divorce action. APL cannot be also granted along with spousal support.
This is awarded to the dependent spouse to assure a reasonable living allowance. The spousal payment responsibility starts out of marriage and stops when the marriage finishes. Typically, spousal support is applicable before filing the divorce complaint, although it may continue while the divorce is pending in court. Spousal support will also stop as soon as the couple receives the decree of divorce.
The main difference between APL and spousal support is that the entitlement of the spouse to receive spousal support is subject to defenses, which are the same as the fault grounds for the divorce. The spouse will not be entitled to support if any of the fault ground can be proved.
Alimony is usually given to the dependent spouse to ensure that the reasonable needs of the individual are met. It is the support that is granted to a dependent spouse when the divorce decree is final and can last for a specific period of time or indefinitely. The alimony claim must be raised before the entry of the divorce decree, otherwise, it will be waived. Remarriage or cohabitation and/or death of the spouse receiving alimony will result in the termination of the obligation to pay alimony by the other spouse.
Step 6: Finalizing your Pennsylvania divorce
Once you file for divorce in the court, it will take around 90 days for the divorce to be finalized. The court will hold a hearing on the issues where there is a dispute. 60 days before the hearing, your spouse and you must submit the following documents:
A complete list of all your assets and their values.
Any witnesses who will testify for you at the hearing.
Your recent tax returns.
Statement of court and lawyer’s fees incurred.
Proposed resolution to any of the disputes.
Once the court hears your case, the judge will issue a final order of divorce which addresses the various issues of distribution of property, child custody, alimony payments, etc. The time required to get the final divorce decree in such cases vary depending on the issues that are in dispute.
Once the waiting period of 90 days is complete, you can submit the final forms and apply for a divorce decree. The final set of forms required are:
Plaintiff’s Affidavit of Consent: This states that all the information filed is true and that the plaintiff agrees to the divorce.
Plaintiff’s Waiver of Notice of Intent: This indicates a waiver to a formal notice.
Pennsylvania Vital Records Form: This request for all important personal information.
Praecipe to Transmit Record: This requests for the divorce to be entered into the records.
Verification of Defendant’s Signature: Verifies that the signature of the defendant appears on all the correct forms.
Defendant’s Affidavit of Consent: This states that all the information filed is true and that the defendant agrees to the divorce.
Defendant’s Waiver of Notice of Intent: This indicates a waiver to a formal notice.