Taking the First Steps on Your Path to a Better Life
You’re not happy in your marriage, and you’ve decided that it is time to get a divorce. Now what? Do you talk to your spouse? Fill out a form? Call a lawyer?
Although every divorce is different, every couple must follow the same steps to end a marriage in Pennsylvania:
- Filing of Divorce “Complaint”
- Gathering of Records
- Negotiation and Hearings
- Resolution and Judgment
Filing of Divorce Complaint: Beginning the Legal Paperwork of Divorce
A Pennsylvania divorce begins with the filing of a “Complaint”, a four page form called Form 1: Notice to Defend and Divorce Complaint. One copy of the form will be filed with the court. The other must be “served” to your spouse within 30 days.
You can deliver the forms by hand, by mail or by another adult, but you will need to be able to verify that your spouse received the form. You can do this with Form 3a, 3b or 3c depending on your method of service. There may be additional paperwork depending on the circumstances of your divorce.
Once the notice is served, the 90 day divorce waiting period begins. The earliest date that an Affidavit of Consent can be filed is 90 days after Form 1 was served.
Discovery Period: The Gathering of Records
Once the legal paperwork is filed, you will need to gather up all important records relating to your marriage and your assets, debts, and property rights.
This paperwork may include:
- Your marriage certificate
- Any prenuptial agreements
- Wills, trusts and other estate planning documents
- Any court orders related to domestic violence or child custody and support
- Financial documents, including pay stubs, proof of additional income, bank account statements, credit card statements, proof of assets and investments, statements for retirements and pension accounts, deeds or leases to property, automobile titles, loan documents, and insurance policies
- A list of monthly expenses and bills
Negotiations and Hearings: Reaching a Divorce Agreement:
This is often the most difficult stage of divorce. Spouses must reach an agreement about the division of property, child custody and financial support. Talk to your attorney about your priorities. Is it more important for you to have full custody of the children or to keep the family home? Your attorney need to know your priorities in order to negotiate an arrangement that works for you.
If you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement, your case will be heard by a family court judge. The judge will use multiple factors to determine how your assets will be divided and who will care for the children. Any information gathered during the discovery stage may be presented to the court to help with this decision.
Resolution and Judgment: The Divorce Becomes Final
When you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce, your agreement will be written into a Marital Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. This is a legal contract that divides the marital property, outlines the custody agreement, and spells out the terms of alimony or child support. A judge will review the agreement and sign it. Then your divorce will become final.
When couples agree, the divorce process can be simple. However, even couples who seek an amicable divorce rarely agree on all aspects of property division, child custody and support. An attorney can help.
The attorneys at Petrelli Previtera Schimmel work to protect your interests. We can help you understand how a divorce agreement will affect your life now and in the future. Let us help you plan for a better tomorrow. Call 215-523-6900 to learn more.