How to File for Divorce in Pennsylvania

How to File for Divorce in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is known as the “Keystone State,” but if you cannot find the keystone to a happy marriage you may need to know the rules for divorce in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.   

Six months in the state

You cannot commence a divorce action in Pennsylvania unless either you or your spouse has been a resident of the state for at least six months.  

Grounds for divorce

Pennsylvania will allow the “innocent and injured spouse” to seek a divorce on six “fault” grounds, which are desertion, adultery, cruel and barbarous treatment, bigamy, imprisonment, and indignities.  

There is also a provision in Pennsylvania’s law allowing for divorce from an institutionalized spouse.  Most couples will not bring such old-fashioned issues into court. Today, most divorces are granted on a “no-fault” basis.  

Pennsylvania actually has two no-fault grounds, which can be granted without a hearing.  The first is mutual consent. If both spouses consent to a divorce they just have to wait a 90-day period and then the divorce can be granted.  

Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is a slightly more complicated version of basically the same thing.  If one spouse says the marriage is irreconcilably broken, and the other spouse either agrees or the court finds no hope for reconciliation, then the divorce is granted.  

The Court can order counseling to potentially try to save the marriage, but that is also a bit of an outdated idea that rarely comes into play.

Grounds for divorce

Property division

Pennsylvania courts will divide up all a couple’s assets into either “marital” or “non-marital” property.  Marital includes basically everything the couple has acquired since the marriage, while property from before the marriage and things like gifts and inheritances are kept separate.  The marital property is then divided “equitably” by the judge.  

The law gives judges a specific list of factors to look at, including the length of the marriage; the age, health, and earning ability of each spouse; the contribution of each spouse to the marriage; and the uncertainty of the value of an asset.  In most cases, a judge will try to split things up equally. Most couples will come to an agreement on property division to avoid leaving it completely to a judge.

Child custody

Custody of a couple’s children must be addressed during the divorce.  A court must address legal custody, which is who makes decisions like what school the child will go to.  Physical custody must also be addressed, and that is where the child will actually be located.

The court must always consider the best interest of the child, but the couple will usually propose a plan themselves without the court having to make a decision from scratch.  

For support, the state government establishes guidelines that are aimed at making sure parents are treated similarly in different courts.  

The guidelines take into account factors like the income and earning capacity of each parent, and there is a rebuttable presumption that the guideline should be used.  That means a judge has to have a good reason not to follow the guideline, and in most cases, the guidelines will be used.

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