When we talk about Divorce, the most difficult issues are related to money – questions about distribution of property, or alimony. But the first question many people ask is more basic – how do I get a divorce?
Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania was the last state in the country to adopt a no-fault Divorce law. Before that time, in order to get divorced, it was necessary to prove that one party was at fault, and the other was free from fault. If both parties were to blame for the marriage’s failure, their punishment was that they were required to stay married to one another.
In 1980, Pennsylvania adopted a no-fault divorce law, which added two additional grounds for Divorce. The law now allows for divorce where the marriage is irretrievably broken, without regard to fault. This can be done based on mutual consent, or, if one party withholds their consent, after a separation for two or more years. The period of separation has been reduced to one year, for separations that begin after December 3, 2016. No Fault Divorce Law Changes. Although the fault grounds for divorce are still part of our law, they are almost never used: the no-fault law is easier, and less expensive.
Pennsylvania Divorce Procedures
The process is fairly straight forward: although most persons obtaining a divorce will need a lawyer to make sure that the proper forms are filed. The following is a simplified version of the process, which leaving out some of the technical requirements of the Rules of Civil Procedure. A Complaint is filed (which is a formal statement of your claims). This has to be served on the other party, usually by certified mail. If a person won’t sign for certified mail, the Complaint can be served by the Sheriff. If the Defendant cannot be located, after satisfying the Court that you have made a good faith effort to locate him or her, another means of service might be authorized, such as publication in a newspaper.
For a mutual consent Divorce, there is a waiting period of 90 days, from the date the Complaint is served on the Defendant. If all other issues are resolved, and the parties each sign an Affidavit of Consent, the Court will grant a Divorce without a hearing.
If the grounds for Divorce are based on a two year separation, the person seeking the Divorce files and serves an Affidavit, stating that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the parties have been separated for at least two years. If the Defendant doesn’t file a counter-affidavit, the court will grant the Divorce.
Alimony and Property Issues in Divorce
Other issues can be joined to a divorce. Claims for Distribution of Property, Alimony, Alimony Pendente Lite (support during the divorce), or Counsel Fees must be raised before the Divorce becomes final – either by including them in the Complaint, or filing a separate pleading. Child Custody is handled separately: although it can be raised in a Divorce, most counties in Pennsylvania have a separate process for deciding custody issues.
If there are other issues, they will need to be resolved, either by a property settlement agreement, or having a hearing. In Blair and Cambria Counties, the Court will appoint a Divorce Master to hear the case. In Bedford County, the Judge will hear the case himself.
In most cases, all the issues will need to be decided before the divorce is final. In some circumstances, the court can bifurcate the case: this allows a Divorce Decree to be issued before a final decision is made on division of property or alimony.