No-Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania
Helping spouses divorce when the marriage is over
Pennsylvania passed laws years ago that allow spouses to divorce without the need to prove fault. The no-fault divorce laws recognize that many marriages just aren’t working. Spouses often develop new interests. The romance in the marriage may be over. Sometimes, spouses only stay married to raise the children – and when then children move out, the basis for the marriage ends.
Pennsylvania still permits spouses the right to file for divorce based on adultery, imprisonment, or just because one spouse makes life unbearable for the other spouse. No-fault divorces recognize that often one spouse isn’t to blame – that the marriage just doesn’t have the spark it once did. While divorce should never be taken lightly (marriages should be preserved for the sake of the couple and the children where possible), Pennsylvania does permit spouses to divorce without the need to prove fault.
What are the requirements for a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania?
No-fault divorces can be granted for one of two reasons:
- Mutual consent. Both spouses agree that the marriage can’t be saved. There is a waiting period. After the divorce papers are served on the non-filing spouse, both spouses must sign and file an affidavit with the family court – where they each state that they consent to the divorce.
- Separation. This no-fault process requires that the spouses live apart for at least one year before they can be granted a divorce (but the action can be filed as soon as you separate). The spouse filing for the divorce must state that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
In both cases, there can’t be any outside financial marital issues. If the issues of equitable division of the marital property, debt obligations, or claims for alimony are unresolved; the divorce will be placed on hold until all those issues are resolved. If there are no outstanding financial issues, the family judge can grant the divorce without the need for a hearing
In Pennsylvania, a no-fault divorce will not be placed on hold if the custody of the children and child support obligations are unresolved. Those issues can be decided after the no-fault divorce is granted.
What’s the timeline for no-fault divorce?
It depends on whether the basis for the divorce is by consent or by separation. There’s a 90-day waiting period after the divorce papers are served if the divorce is based on mutual consent. The timeline from the initial divorce filing to the signature on the divorce order by the judge can take as little as four months.
In separation no-fault cases, the spouses don’t have to wait one year after the divorce filing. They just have to be separated at least one year before the divorce can be granted on these grounds. The time frame for a no-fault divorce based on separation of at least one year is minimal provided there are no outstanding financial issues.
What steps are involved in filing for no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania?
There are four key steps that your Pennsylvania divorce lawyer will explain:
- File and serve the divorce papers. Your lawyer will file the divorce complaint with the family court in the county where you live. The complaint must be served on your spouse, usually by a court official such as someone in the local sheriff’s office. You must also file a proof of service to verify the divorce complaint was served and when it was served.
- Consent or separation affidavit. If the divorce is based on mutual agreement, each spouse must sign and file a consent affidavit. If the divorce is based on separation, you’ll need to file a separation affidavit. Your spouse will have a chance to object to the separation affidavit.
- A praecipe. This document is a formal request which informs the court that the case is ready for judicial review.
- The divorce decree. If the documents are in order and the requirements have been satisfied, the judge can sign the divorce decree.
The open issues that can delay the no-fault divorce
Spouses who don’t have any assets – such as couples who just rent an apartment and were only married for a short time – generally don’t need to worry about how they divide their assets. Often, each spouse keeps any assets titled in their name.
Most spouses do accumulate assets during a marriage. Examples include the marital home (often subject to a mortgage), automobiles, and joint bank accounts. Spouses who are married for a long time may have stocks, jewelry, businesses, and retirement benefits.
In no-fault divorce cases, the marital assets are divided equitably (which often doesn’t mean equally). The spouses need to reach an agreement as to how their assets and debts will be divided in order to obtain a fast no-fault divorce. Otherwise, they need to resolve the division of marital property after the divorce is filed – by agreement, by alternative methods such as mediation, or by a court decision.
Alimony in Pennsylvania can be awarded (before and after the divorce is granted) if one spouse isn’t able to earn a comparable living to the other spouse. Judges consider many different factors including the length of the marriage.
Child custody and child support
If the spouses have minor children, they will need to reach an agreement as to the legal custody and physical custody of the children – along with visitation rights. If they can’t reach an agreement, the family court judge will decide the issue.
Parents have a duty to financially support their children. Usually, one spouse is ordered to pay a specific amount (each month, biweekly, bi-monthly, or weekly) to the other spouse.
Both custody and child support can be resolved and/or ordered after a no-fault divorce is granted.
At Statt Law, our Harrisburg divorce lawyers represent spouses in no-fault divorces and contested divorces. We negotiate and litigate the divorce and the related issues – equitable distribution, alimony, child custody, and child support. To schedule an appointment with an experienced family lawyer, call us at: (717) 537-0928 or complete our contact form.
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