A brief guide to divorce in Pennsylvania
Couples thinking of separating permanently or temporarily in Pennsylvania should be aware of the following:
Pennsylvania state divorce laws
To file for divorce in Pennsylvania, one or both of the spouses must have been a resident of the state for at least six months.
Grounds for divorce
Aside from no fault divorces, there are six valid grounds to file for an at-fault divorce in Pennsylvania:
• Desertion lasting a year or longer
• Imprisonment for two years or longer
• Endangering a spouse’s life
• Otherwise rendering marital life impossible to bear
Couples who wish to live apart but are not sure if they wish to divorce in Pennsylvania can negotiate a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. Like a divorce, this sets the terms of child custody, division of property and other areas of contention. The terms of this agreement are legally binding and can be used as the framework for a divorce later.
Types of divorce
Couples who jointly file for divorce or who agree on the terms of their separation are filing for an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania. Those couples who cannot come to an agreement or where one spouse does not consent to the divorce will appear in court to have their contested divorce resolved by a judge.
No fault divorce
Couples who agree on the terms of their separation may file for a no fault divorce in Pennsylvania by claiming their marriage is irretrievably beyond repair. There is a waiting period of 90 days before the divorce will be finalized. No fault divorce in Pennsylvania may also be filed for by couples who have lived apart for two years or longer.
Steps in the divorce process
Divorce in Pennsylvania begins when one spouse files a complaint with their district family court. Within 30 days, their spouse must be served with a notification and will have 20 days to respond if they want. During the pretrial process, informal hearings will be arranged to help couples arrive at an agreement. If no resolution is achieved, a judge will hear the case and decide upon alimony, custody terms and other areas of disagreement.
Temporary or permanent alimony may be awarded. Factors taken into consideration include:
• Both spouses’ age and health
• Both spouses’ earning capacity
• The standard of living during the marriage
• Any implications for both parties’ tax payments or status
Child support payments are generally assessed based upon official guidelines. A parent may plead special circumstances as to why the monthly support payments ordered are unjust or financially crippling.
Fathers’ and mothers’ rights
No gender preference can be taken into consideration by any judge when awarding child custody. The child’s wishes are taken into consideration. Which parent is more likely to allow their child to see the non-custodial parent will also be taken into consideration, as well as any history of abuse.