How to File a Divorce in Pennsylvania

How to File a Divorce in Pennsylvania

by Edward A. Haman, Esq., August 2015

For any married couple in Pennsylvania, divorce will sever the marital relationship, and divide assets and debts. If one party will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, the issues of child custody and support must be resolved. Same Sex Divorce. Same sex marriage and divorce are legal in Pennsylvania.

Residency and Where to File

In order to file for divorce in Pennsylvania, either you or your spouse must be a Pennsylvania resident for at least 6 months. You may file in the Court of Common Pleas in the county where:

  • the defendant resides,
  • the plaintiff resides, if the defendant is not a Pennsylvania resident,
  • you and your spouse were domiciled while you were married,
  • the plaintiff resides, if you are not separated for 6 months and the defendant agrees, or where either party resides if neither live in the county where you lived together, or
  • where either party resides, if you have been separated for at least 6 months.

Procedures

The simplest procedure is an uncontested divorce, where you and your spouse reach an agreement about all issues. You begin the procedure by filing a Complaint in Divorce, along with various supporting documents. For an uncontested divorce, one of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Divorce.   

Grounds for Divorce

Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Pennsylvania, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce, and several traditional fault-based grounds.

To get a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania you need to state one of the two no-fault grounds in the Complaint in Divorce. One is that “the marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken and both parties consent to a divorce.” Both parties must file affidavits consenting to divorce, and the decree cannot be entered until 90 days after filing. The other no-fault ground is that “the marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken, and the parties have lived separate and apart for a period of at least two years.” If the defendant denies this, the judge must make a finding. The judge may also continue the case for 90 to 120 days, and require marriage counseling.

The fault-based grounds are desertion for 1 year, adultery, cruel and barbarous treatment endangering the life or health of the other, bigamy, imprisonment for 2 or more years, offering such indignities as to render the other’s condition intolerable and life burdensome, and confinement to a mental institution for at least the past 18 months. In most cases, there is no reason to use these, since they add complexity by requiring proof.

Property Division

A divorce involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. Generally, each party will keep his or her nonmarital property, which is property:

  • acquired prior to marriage or in exchange for such property,
  • excluded by valid agreement of the parties,
  • acquired by inheritance, or a non-spousal gift, or in exchange for such property,
  • acquired between the date of separation and the date of divorce, and
  • constituting payment from a lawsuit or claim accruing prior to the marriage or after the date of final separation, regardless of when the payment was received.

All other property is marital property. Absent an agreement, the judge will “equitably” divide the marital property, after considering all relevant factors, including:

  • the length of the marriage,
  • any prior marriage of either party,
  • each party’s age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs,
  • any party’s contribution to the education or increased earning power of the other,
  • each party’s opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets and income,
  • each party’s sources of income, including medical, retirement, or other benefits,
  • each party’s contribution to the acquisition, preservation, dissipation, depreciation, or appreciation of the property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker,
  • the value of the property set apart to each party,
  • the standard of living established during the marriage,
  • each party’s economic circumstances when the property division becomes effective,
  • the tax ramifications associated with each asset to be divided,
  • the expense of sale, transfer or liquidation associated with a particular asset, and
  • whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.

Alimony in Pennsylvania

Absent an alimony agreement, the judge will determine the nature, amount, duration, and manner of payment of alimony after considering all relevant factors, including:

  • the relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties,
  • each party’s age, and the physical, mental, and emotional condition,
  • each party’s sources of income, including medical, retirement, or other benefits,
  • any expectancies and inheritances of the parties,
  • the duration of the marriage,
  • any party’s contribution to the education or increased earning power of the other,
  • how a custodial party’s financial situation will be affected,
  • the standard of living established during the marriage,
  • the relative education of the parties, and the time necessary to acquire education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment,
  • the relative assets and liabilities of the parties,
  • the property brought to the marriage by either party,
  • the contribution of a party as homemaker,
  • the relative needs of the parties,
  • any marital misconduct of either party during the marriage (until separation),
  • the tax ramifications of the alimony award,
  • whether the party seeking alimony lacks sufficient property to provide for the party’s reasonable needs, and is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment.

Alimony will be barred, or will terminate, if the party seeking or receiving alimony enters “into cohabitation with a person of the opposite sex who is not a member of the party’s family.”

Child Custody in Pennsylvania

Child custody basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. Absent a custody agreement, the judge will decide the issue, after considering all relevant factors, including:

  • which party is more likely to encourage contact between the child and the other party,
  • any present or past abuse committed by a party or member of a party’s household,
  • the parental duties performed by each party,
  • the need for stability in the child’s education, family life, and community life,
  • the availability of extended family, and the child’s sibling relationships,
  • the well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment,
  • any attempts of a party to turn the child against the other party,
  • which party is more likely to maintain a loving and stable relationship with the child,
  • which party is more likely to attend to the child’s daily needs,
  • the proximity of the residences of the parties,
  • each party’s availability to care for the child, or make childcare arrangements,
  • the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another,
  • any history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household, and
  • the mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.

Child Support in Pennsylvania

Child support is determined by the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines, found on the Public Welfare website.

If you are considering an uncontested divorce, LegalZoom can help you get the divorce documents you need. We help you fill out the paperwork and check it for completeness and accuracy, and provide step-by-step instructions for filing and completing your divorce.