If you are thinking about ending your marriage, you may be wondering how long it takes to divorce in PA and if there is such a thing as a quick divorce in Pennsylvania. In truth, the timeline of each divorce depends on the approach the couple chooses as well as their assets and debts, their ability to agree on the terms, and other factors. Below is a brief breakdown of these considerations.
How to Divorce in Pennsylvania
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.
Waiting Period for No-Fault Divorce in PA
Each approach to divorce in PA has a specific waiting period to get started.
Unilateral No-Fault Divorce (Only One Spouse Wants to Divorce)
As of December 2016, the waiting period for filing a unilateral no-fault divorce – meaning only one of the spouses wants to divorce – decreased from two years of living separately to one year. However, for those who file for divorce prior to physically separating will have to live apart and wait two years to file. Timing is key for those interested in filing a unilateral no-fault divorce.
Mutual Consent Divorce (Both Spouses Agree)
In a mutual consent divorce, both spouses file an affidavit that says they agree to dissolving their marriage. The spouses do not have to live separately for one year before filing the affidavit. Rather, Pennsylvania law imposes a 90-day waiting period after filing to finalize the divorce agreement – just in case one spouse changes his or her mind. When it is appropriate for a couple, a mutual consent divorce is by far the fastest and simplest path.
The Divorce Process
Once the waiting period is over, the process of ending the marriage may begin. All divorces follow the same basic steps in Pennsylvania. These steps include:
- Filing a divorce complaint
- Gathering of records
- Negotiation and hearings
- Resolution and judgment
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.
Equitable Distribution Divorce in Pennsylvania
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 these steps take depends on how easily the spouses agree to the terms of the divorce. Pennsylvania follows the rules of equitable distribution regarding marital property and debts. Equitable distribution does not always mean equal; rather, the goal is to achieve a fair divide of all property and debts. If a divorcing couple cannot reach a settlement prior to entering the court system, the court will separate the assets and debts in a way it deems fair under the circumstances.
Other factors that affect how long a divorce will take in PA include:
- The spouses’ assets, including real estate, cars, businesses, and others
- The spouses’ debts, including outstanding loans, credit card debt, and others
- Whether the spouses filed a prenuptial agreement
- Whether the spouses have kids, and if they do, how old they are
- How quickly the court can review the terms of the divorce, hold hearings, and file any necessary orders
If a divorce is contested, meaning the spouses cannot agree to the terms of the divorce (or to divorce at all), the parties will need to take additional steps. Court hearings and negotiations among the spouses’ lawyers will require extra time.
Getting Legal Help
It may be difficult for some individuals to decide whether divorce is worth the time and effort. After all, simply separating into two households may resolve some of the biggest issues in the marriage. However, filing a divorce agreement and officially ending a marriage comes with some important protections. Property and debts are no longer legally shared. Custody and support arrangements are enforceable by law. Should your needs, your ex-spouse’s needs, or your children’s needs change in the future, there is always the option to modify a court order.
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 at (215) 523-6900 or through our online form today.