Living in Pennsylvania and thinking of a divorce? Here is what you need to know about the steps to the Pennsylvania divorce process.

How long does a divorce take in Pennsylvania?

Generally speaking, divorce can take around two years in Pennsylvania. As in all cases, however, it is important to remember that this can be affected by the unique circumstances of each divorce case.

1. Grounds for divorce

Pennsylvania allows for no-fault and fault-based divorces. No-fault divorces entail the court not requiring either spouse to prove that the divorce resulted from the other spouse’s negative actions. In fault-based divorces, a minimum of one spouse needs to prove that the other party caused the marriage to fail.

No-fault grounds to divorce:

No-fault marriages in Pennsylvania result in resolutions faster than fault-based divorces because there is no argument regarding who is responsible for the divorce. No-fault divorce will be granted in either of the below cases:
-Mutual consent: Both parties are in agreement that the marriage is broken, there has been a 90 day period since the date the divorce was filed, both spouses have filed an affidavit of consent, admitting to consent to the divorce.
-Separation for a year: Used in cases when one party is not interested in getting a divorce. One party will claim that the marriage cannot be salvaged and file an affidavit claiming that both parties have not been residing together for at least a year. In these cases, the marriage is said to be irretrievably broken.

Fault-Based Grounds to Divorce:

In fault-based divorces, one or both parties serve evidence to the judge to show the marriage indicating there was wrongdoing by the other party, which meets Pennsylvania’s fault-based grounds for divorce. In Pennsylvania, judges are allowed to grant fault-based divorces to “innocent and injured spouses” who meet the following criteria:

  • Has committed acts of adultery
  • Has committed acts of desertion with malicious intent (ie. leaving the home shared between the spouses
  • for a period greater than a year)
  • Has committed cruel and dangerous treatment thus placing the life of their spouse in danger
  • Knowingly involved oneself in another marriage while still married to their previous spouse
  • Has been imprisoned for at least two years
  • Has influenced the life of their spouse to become intolerable or intentionally wreck harm on their life
  • Is registered as having severe mental illness or insanity that has resulted in their placement in a mental institution for a minimum of eighteen years preceding the filing of the divorce and there is not a possibility that the spouse will be released from the institution within eighteen months after the filing of the divorce.
    (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. 3301 (2022).)

Related: Pennsylvania Child Custody FAQs

2. Types of divorce

Two kinds of divorce that one can pursue are uncontested and contested. An uncontested divorce is where the spouses agree on all subjects pertaining to the divorce. Division of property, child custody, and alimony are some of the subjects which must be agreed upon. In an uncontested divorce, the spouses have minor disagreements that need to be resolved with a trial, thus making contested divorces much smoother to pursue.

3. File divorce papers in a Pennsylvania court

Where can the divorce be filed?

The divorce can be filed in the county where:

  • The spouse not filing for the divorce lives,
  • The filing spouse lives,
  • If the defendant lives in a different state or if the plaintiff has resided in the country for a long period of time, the divorce can be filed where either party lives six months after the date of legal separation.

Once the filing is complete, the responding spouse will be served with the paperwork. They have thirty days within filing the paperwork to respond.

Related: Guardianship in Pennsylvania: Types, Processes, & Laws

4. Agree on the issues relevant to both spouses in the divorce (child custody, property division, etc.)

5. File the requested paperwork with the county’s Prothonotary Office (court clerk)

There are different forms for different court locations in Pennsylvania. Usually, one will need to file a Complaint accompanied by a Notice to Defend. A Notice to Defend is similar to a summons in other states. There will be a required court filing fee which can be waived under certain circumstances. Usually, the fee is around two hundred fifty dollars

6. After the paperwork is filed and the spouse responds to the complaint, the court will hand the case or pass it on to a divorce master who has extensive experience as a lawyer appointed by the court

7. After the hearings, the spouses can disagree or agree with the recommendations made by the court. The divorce is finalized after Pennsylvania law imposes a 90 day waiting period after filing to finalize the decree.

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If you or a loved one would like to learn more about the steps in a Pennsylvania divorce process, get your free consultation with one of our divorce attorneys today!