If you are thinking about ending your marriage, you may be wondering how long it takes to divorce 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.
Filing for Divorce in Pennsylvania
If you are considering divorce, you may have several options depending on your unique circumstances. Below is a breakdown of the types of divorce in PA and how they differ. An attorney can answer your questions and discuss how the law may apply to your situation.
The Four Types of Divorce in PA
Divorcing Pennsylvania couples can generally take one of four approaches:
- 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 the consent of that spouse to divorce.
- Each of these types of divorce has different requirements and timelines.
1. Mutual Consent Divorce in PA
In a mutual consent divorce, both spouses file an affidavit – meaning a sworn, signed statement – that they agree to dissolve their marriage. While the divorce is “uncontested” in this scenario, both parties still claim in the initial filing that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that they both agree to the divorce. Pennsylvania law imposes a 90-day waiting period after filing to finalize the divorce agreement.
2. No-Fault Divorce After Living Apart for One Year
Couples can also file for a no-fault divorce after living apart for one year. After that time, only one spouse needs to file an affidavit declaring the marriage irreparable. In 2016, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania signed a new state law that reduced the waiting period for no-fault divorce from two years to one. The shorter time frame not only eases the burden on the divorcing couple but also on their children.
3. Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania
Filing a fault divorce is much more complex than filing a no-fault divorce. One spouse must have committed an act that falls under one of Pennsylvania’s six grounds for a fault divorce:
- Cruel and barbarous treatment
However, moving forward with a fault divorce requires more action than simply accusing one spouse of committing any of the above misconduct. The other spouse must also submit strong evidence, which a court official will review in a separate proceeding. The court official will then indicate to the judge whether or not the grounds for a fault divorce are valid and, in fact, ruined the marriage. If they are valid, the fault divorce may move forward. If not, the spouse can appeal the decision or choose another type of divorce.
4. Divorce Following Institutionalization
A spouse can file for divorce in PA without a court hearing if the other spouse is institutionalized for a mental disorder. The waiting period is 18 months after the date of institutionalization. There must also be no plan for discharge within another 18 months.
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
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 dissolve 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 in Pennsylvania
Once the waiting period is over, the process of ending the marriage may begin. While there are several types of divorce in PA, each follows an overarching process. Divorcing spouses must follow the same steps to end a marriage in Pennsylvania. These steps include:
- Filing of a divorce complaint
- Gathering of records
- Negotiation and hearings
- Resolution and judgment
A Pennsylvania divorce begins with filing a form called a “complaint.” One copy of the form will be filed with the court. The other must be “served” to the spouse within 30 days. 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 legal paperwork is filed, the spouses will gather important records relating to their assets and debts. The spouses must then reach an agreement about the division of property, child custody, and financial support. 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
If you’re thinking about divorce, we can give you the information you need to make the best decisions moving forward. We welcome you to call Petrelli Previtera today to schedule a consultation. 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 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.