How to File for Divorce in Pennsylvania

Amy Pennza
Divorce procedures in Pennsylvania

If you are wondering how to file for divorce in Pennsylvania, the procedure you follow depends on whether you and your spouse agree to the divorce and division of marital property. The state's divorce procedures are somewhat simple, but its laws contain nuances that may make some divorces more complicated. Keep in mind that to file for divorce in Pennsylvania, at least one spouse must be a resident of state for a minimum of six months.

Grounds

Pennsylvania accepts both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce. There are specific grounds for a "fault" divorce in Pennsylvania:

  • Abandonment for at least a year
  • Adultery
  • Cruel treatment
  • Bigamy
  • Imprisonment for two years or more
  • Extreme difficulty (ie your spouse has made your life miserable)

The spouse claiming one or more of these grounds must prove the grounds. Failure to prove grounds does not result in dismissal of the complaint, but will require the court to treat the petition for divorce as a no-fault one.

A no-fault divorce can be based on:

  • Mental illness of one spouse that results in Institutionalization for 18 months or longer
  • The mutual consent of both parties; 90 days must have elapsed from the date that the claim was filed.
  • Both spouses agreeing that the marriage is irretrievably broken as evidenced by both spouses living apart for at least two years.

If the complaint names either 'mutual consent' or that the marriage is 'irretrievably broken' as the grounds, the court may grant the divorce without a final hearing.

How to File

The first step in the divorce process is to file a complaint for divorce in the court of common pleas in the county in which you or your spouse lives. The complaint should contain your and your spouse's full names and addresses, a statement that you have lived in the state for the previous six months, the date and place of the marriage and, in the case of a fault divorce, the grounds for a divorce.

No-Fault Divorce

In no-fault divorces, you and your spouse typically divide your property and submit your property-division agreement to the court along with, or anytime after, filing the complaint. Ninety days later you and your spouse must file an Affidavit of Consent to the Divorce and a Waiver of Service for all further filings. Once the court receives these documents, it will enter the final decree of divorce. A no-fault divorce can take as few as 90 days to obtain. Many counties, including Lehigh County, provide access to free self-help divorce forms on their websites.

Fault Divorce

In a fault-based divorce, your spouse must file an answer to your allegations with the court within 30 days of receiving your complaint. You are allowed 20 days after receipt of the Answer to file a Response refuting its statements.

Ninety days after filing for divorce, you and your spouse must provide the court with an inventory of marital and non-marital assets owned at the time you filed the Complaint.

Hearing

Next, the court holds a hearing on the disputed elements of the divorce complaint. Sixty days prior to this hearing, you and your spouse submit:

  • A comprehensive list of assets and their values
  • Any witnesses you will present at the hearing and their testimony, your most recent tax return
  • A statement of court and attorneys' fees you have incurred
  • A proposed resolution to any disputes

At the end of the hearing the court issues a final order of divorce that addresses the division of property, establishes child custody, and any alimony payments. The length of time required to obtain a final decree of divorce in these types of divorces varies depending on the issues in dispute.

Property Division

Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. To divide property, courts consider the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Previous marriages
  • The parties' ages, health status, lifestyles, incomes, vocational skills, employability, assets, and liabilities
  • Whether a spouse contributed to the education, training, or earning ability of the other
  • Each side's opportunities to acquire future assets
  • Each side's sources of income
  • Whether either side contributed to the acquisition or dissipation of marital assets, including one spouse's contributions as a homemaker
  • The value of property awarded to each side
  • The standard of living enjoyed during the marriage
  • The financial situation of each side at the time the property is awarded
  • The tax consequences of the property division
  • The cost to sell, transfer, or liquidate assets
  • Which spouse will serve as custodian of the children

Alimony

When Pennsylvania courts award alimony in a divorce, they consider a number of factors to determine how much to award and how long alimony payments will last. These factors include:

  • The income and earning ability of both spouses
  • The age of both spouses
  • The physical, mental, and emotional health of each spouse
  • Each side's sources of income
  • Whether either side can expect an inheritance
  • The length of the marriage
  • Whether one spouse contributed to the education, training, or advanced earning ability of the other
  • Whether a spouse's earning ability will be impacted because he or she has custody of the children
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The education level of the parties
  • Each side's assets and liabilities
  • The property each spouse brought to the marriage
  • A spouse's contributions as a homemaker
  • The economic needs of both spouses
  • Marital misconduct

Child Custody and Support

If you have minor children, child custody and support will be important issues in your divorce case. Courts in Pennsylvania award custody based on the best interest of the kids.

Custody

Under Pennsylvania law, courts consider the following factors when deciding how to award custody.

  • Which parent is more likely to encourage the child to have contact with the other parent
  • Any past or present abuse
  • The parental tasks performed by each parent for the child
  • The child's need for stability regarding education, family life, and community life
  • The proximity of the child's extended family
  • The child's relationships with siblings
  • The child's wishes
  • Whether one parent has attempted to alienate the child from the other
  • Which parent is more likely to provide a loving and stable relationship with the child
  • Which parent is more likely to take care of the child's physical, emotional, educational, and developmental needs
  • The distance between the parents' respective residences
  • Each parent's ability to care for the child
  • The parents' level of cooperation with each other
  • Any history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • The parties' mental and physical health

Child Support

Courts in Pennsylvania award child support based on state guidelines. Child support calculators factor in each parent's income, the number of children, child care costs, alimony payments, and the cost of health insurance for the child.

Your Pennsylvania Divorce

The procedure for filing for divorce in Pennsylvania differs depending on the relationship of the parties. The state's divorce laws are relatively straightforward and do not require spouses to have legal representation. Additionally, most of the courts, such as the First Judicial District, provide self-help resources to individuals not represented by an attorney.

How to File for Divorce in Pennsylvania