Divorce in PA
If you are considering divorce, you are likely wondering what the process entails in PA as well as the steps to resolve your divorce and how long it will take. Below is a breakdown.
Pennsylvania Divorce Process
All divorces follow the same four basic steps in Pennsylvania. These steps include:
- Filing a divorce complaint
- Gathering records
- Reaching a resolution
Divorce begins with filing a form called a complaint. Except in a mutual consent divorce (more information below), one spouse must “serve” a copy of the complaint to the other spouse within 30 days of filing.
Once the paperwork is filed, the spouses gather records related to their assets and debts. They then work toward an agreement. The divorce agreement outlines arrangements regarding the following:
- Division of marital property
- Division of marital debt
- Child custody and child support if the spouses have children
- Spousal support
The court then files a divorce decree to officially dissolve the marriage.
If your divorce is uncontested, meaning you and your spouse can work through the terms of the divorce, the process is relatively straightforward. If your divorce is contested, meaning you and your spouse cannot agree, you will likely need to turn to litigation. In these scenarios, the court assists with creating the final divorce agreement. Trials and hearings can prolong the process.
How to Divorce in PA
There are several approaches to divorce in Pennsylvania:
- Mutual consent divorce: Both spouses agree to the divorce, and each signs an affidavit saying the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
- No-fault divorce: One spouse may file for divorce after a period of separation (see below).
- Fault divorce: One spouse may file for a fault-based divorce based on one of six grounds.
- Divorce after institutionalization: One spouse can file for divorce without a court hearing if the other spouse has been institutionalized for a mental disorder for 18 months. There must be no plan for discharge within another 18 months.
- Divorce after a personal injury: If one spouse has been convicted of a personal injury crime against the other, the court will presume consent of that spouse to divorce.
Each of these types of divorce has its own timeline. Choosing the best approach depends on the couples’ unique situation.
Equitable Distribution Divorce in PA
Pennsylvania follows the rules of equitable distribution. In other words, the court expects couples to divide their marital property and debts fairly (but not necessarily equally).
- Marital assets can include:
- Businesses owned by the parties
- Investments and retirement accounts
Anything purchased during the marriage is marital property in PA, even if it is only in one party’s name.
Likewise, marital debts are those that one or both spouses acquired after the marriage and before separation. Common marital debts include:
- Credit card bills
- Car loans
- Home equity loans
- Tax obligations
If divorcing spouses cannot reach a settlement prior to entering the court system, the court will separate the marital assets and debts in a way it deems fair under the circumstances.
How Long Does a Pennsylvania Divorce Take?
The waiting period to commence your divorce depends on which approach you take. In a no-fault divorce, the spouses must live separate and apart for one year before one spouse can file and serve the papers to the other. It’s important to note that those who file for divorce prior to this physical separation will have to live apart for two years before filing.
In a mutual consent divorce, there is no requirement for time apart. Instead, Pennsylvania law imposes a 90-day waiting period after filing to commence the divorce, in case one spouse changes his or her mind.
Getting Legal Help
Regardless of whether you and your spouse agree to divorce, speaking with an experienced divorce lawyer is very helpful. During your initial consultation with our firm, we will define your goals and consider any potential obstacles in achieving the best outcome. An attorney will discuss issues with you such as parental rights, custody, and division of property. We will advise you on how to protect and divide your assets. If you decide to retain us as your counsel, we can start immediately after the first meeting.
Our legal team has the experience you need to resolve your divorce. To get started, contact Petrelli Previtera Schimmel at (215) 523-6900 or through our online form today.