Getting a divorce in Pennsylvania, or anywhere for that matter, calls for ample information. The more you know in advance, the easier it will be to get through the proceedings. Because divorce laws vary from one state to the next, here are the basic ground rules for divorcing in Pennsylvania.
The answer to this question depends on several factors.
To obtain a divorce in Pennsylvania, at least one of the parties must have resided in the state for six months before divorce procedures begin. Spouses may agree to a mutual divorce, or may present a fault divorce to the court.
See 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3301 for a complete list of grounds of fault for divorce in Pennsylvania.
The simple process outlined below works only for dissolution of marriage, and is only available for cases in which neither spouse is serving in the military. A lawyer must be hired if the spouse who is filing wishes to divide property, file for custody of children, receive alimony, or receive payment for expenses including legal fees.
Because Pennsylvania divorce laws can change, all parties planning to divorce are encouraged to check with their local Court Administrator’s Office or any local office where legal pleadings are filed to determine how to proceed, and to learn which documents are required.
In Pennsylvania, simple divorce cases begin when one party files a “Complaint.” This process begins when the complainant to fill out two forms:
If the complainant does not have funds to pay for a divorce, Pennsylvania may opt to waive filing fees. To qualify for this waiver, the filing party must fill out an additional form called In Forma Pauperis.
These forms are available for download from the Pennsylvania court system’s website. Once all required pages are complete, the filing party should make at least two copies of each, as well as of the Complaint. The forms should be hand-carried to the local courthouse and presented at the office where all legal pleadings are filed. The receiving court official will stamp the date and time on the documents when they are accepted.
After filing all official Pennsylvania divorce papers successfully, the complainant has thirty days to serve the other party. If the other party lives outside Pennsylvania, the complainant has ninety days to complete service. If attempts to serve the other party are unsuccessful, the Complaint must be returned to the court, reinstated, and re-served. Reinstatement re-starts the clock for another thirty or ninety days. The reinstatement process may be conducted as many times as required to successfully complete the service. If the Complainant has difficulty completing service on his/her own, the state recommends hiring a lawyer.
The state of Pennsylvania accepts the following forms of service:
When service has been completed, all associated forms should be hand-carried to the local courthouse and presented to the office where legal pleadings are filed. All documents will be time-stamped. The originals will remain on file and copies will be presented to the Complainant for his or her records.
No matter how quickly the service procedure has been completed, Pennsylvania’s divorce laws require both parties to wait ninety days from the date of service to file consent forms called “Affidavit of Consent.” Both Affidavit of Consent forms must be filed within thirty days of the date they were signed and dated. If this time limit is exceeded, then both parties must re-sign and re-file new Affidavit of Consent forms.
The next step involves one of two options:
If both parties sign the Waiver of Notice form, then either spouse has the option of immediately filing a Praecipe to Transmit Record, and the file will be sent to a judge for completion.
If one or both parties opt to mail the other a Notice of Intention to Request Entry of Section 3301(c) Divorce Decree and a Counter-Affidavit, then both parties must wait 20 days before the Praecipe to Transmit Record is sent to the judge.
In both cases, the court must also be provided with a proposed Divorce Decree (also called Form 13). Self-addressed, stamped envelopes must be provided for each spouse. The court will use these envelopes to mail each party a copy of the finalized divorce decree.
Pennsylvania divorce laws concerning separation prior to divorce changed recently. Current Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure require a period of separation prior to proceeding with a non-consent divorce with no fault. These separation periods do not apply when both spouses consent to divorce.
If the period of separation began prior to December 5 of 2016, both spouses must live separate and apart for a total of two years before filing the divorce complaint.
If the period of separation began on or after December 5 of 2016, both spouses must live separate and apart for a period of one year before filing the divorce complaint.
After the applicable time period has passed, either spouse may sign and file an Affidavit Under Section 3301(d) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code. This states that the required separation time has passed, and allows a divorce to be entered after the other party has been notified and properly served with the following:
These forms provide the other party with the option of opposing the divorce or raising claims. If they do not wish to take action, then the filing goes before a judge, who may enter a Divorce Decree twenty days after service has taken place. Self-addressed, stamped envelopes must be provided for each spouse. The court will use these envelopes to mail each party a copy of the finalized divorce decree.
It is important to note that a 3301(d) divorce may not be obtained against a spouse who is both unrepresented and in the military. For this reason, all 3301(d) divorces in Pennsylvania must be accompanied by an Affidavit of Non-Military Service.
Pennsylvania divorce costs vary from one complaint to the next, and costs can vary from one county to another. Certain court filing costs may be hundreds of dollars. If a complainant cannot afford to pay filing costs, he or she may request In Forma Pauperis status, which requires detailed statements of income and expense. In addition to these statements, the party may be required to appear before the judge for a hearing to determine whether Pennsylvania divorce fees can be waived.
Between forty and fifty percent of US residents file for divorce at some time during their lives. In 2017, Pennsylvania statistics showed 32,777 divorces and annulments, along with 73,304 marriages for a divorce rate of almost 45 percent.
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Although you may opt to represent yourself for a simple mutual divorce, Pennsylvania lawyers offer insight and expertise in dealing with complicated matters and ensuring that each party receives his or her fair share of property. Divorce in Pennsylvania is often complicated, meaning that it is best to obtain legal counsel or mediation services to ensure that every detail is properly attended to. Mistakes are common when people represent themselves during divorce. Parties who present filings that contain errors are required to re-file under Pennsylvania divorce law, so the process takes far longer than necessary and costs far more in legal fees. Here is a list of divorce lawyers in Pennsylvania.
Selected Pennsylvania Divorce Lawyers:
Because divorces are challenging under the best of circumstances, trained professionals dedicate their careers to guiding their clients efficiently through procedures, particularly in complicated cases. You may choose to build your Pennsylvania divorce team using the following individuals or websites:
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Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice on any subject matter. Consult with an attorney for more information regarding your individual situation
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