“How do we get divorced in Pennsylvania?” is probably the most frequently asked question by Pennsylvania residents faced with divorce. Unfortunately there is no simple answer. Many people think all they need is a “simple divorce.” A “simple divorce” has a very specific set of criteria, which the standard divorces does not fit. There are many complex, interrelated issues to consider. There may be property, equitable distribution, and support issues that need to be dealt with before a divorce can be processed. Before deciding to proceed with a simple divorce on your own, you should schedule a free consultation with a divorce professional at SnapDivorce. That way you at least know all your bases are being covered.
If you are intent on filing for a simple divorce on your own, a general overview of the divorce process in Pennsylvania follows, along with a link to free Pennsylvania divorce forms.
Once again, however, individuals looking to process their own divorces should be cautioned that obtaining a divorce in Pennsylvania without a complete understanding of the process, the laws and the legal implications can result in serious, potentially ruinous economic and legal consequences.
The steps to get divorced in PA (Pennsylvania) are as follows (NOTE: These are instructions to get a simple divorce, without any related claims such as equitable distribution, alimony pendente lite, alimony, or special relief. If you need to raise any such claims, DO NOT proceed on your own):
1. Establish a Date of Separation.
The first step in obtaining a divorce in PA is to establish a date of legal separation. This date is important because it starts the clock ticking for certain waiting periods that must be observed under the law. It is also important if you are raising other claims and seeking economic relief, such as equitable distribution.
A date of legal separation can be established in one of two ways. The first way is by filing a divorce complaint. The law presumes that the date of separation is the date on which the divorce complaint is filed, unless a party can establish an alternate date. The second way to establish a date of separation is through conduct – for example by moving out of the marital residence or by moving into another bedroom and by declaring to your spouse, friends and family that you are separated. While there are no fixed rules about what type of conduct or actions are sufficient to establish a date separation, the conduct should clearly indicate an intention to separate from your spouse emotionally and financially, and to end your marriage.
2. Try to Determine if You Can Get a Divorce Under Section 3301(c) or 3301(d) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code.
There are two main ways to get a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania.
The first way is to get a “mutual consent” divorce, meaning that both parties are in agreement with getting a divorce and will sign the necessary forms. This is a divorce under Section 3301(c) of the PA Divorce Code. You can move this divorce forward 90 days after the divorce complaint has been filed and served on your spouse. If you and your spouse are in agreement with getting divorced and can work together to get the divorced processed, use this link for Free Pennsylvania Divorce Forms and follow the instructions and forms for a Section 3301(c) no-fault mutual consent divorce.
The second way to get divorced in PA is through a two-year separation. You can get divorced this way even if your spouse won’t cooperate with you in getting a divorce. This is a divorce under Section 3301(d) of the PA Divorce Code. To get divorced this way, you need to be separated for two years from your spouse (see Establish a Date of Separation above). Note that you should still file for divorce promptly to establish a date of separation, if another date of separation is not applicable. After two years has passed from your date of separation you can move the divorce forward to completion. If your spouse won’t work with you to get divorce and you are going to try to get divorced based on a two-year separation, use this link for Free Pennsylvania Divorce Forms and follow the instructions and forms for a Section 3301(d) no-fault two year separation divorce.
3. File for Divorce.
After you have determined if you will be seeking a divorce under Section 3301(c) or Section 3301(d) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code, the next step to get divorced in Pennsylvania is to file a Divorce Complaint (use the links above to obtain the proper forms and instructions). The Divorce Complaint is usually filed in the county in which you reside. For example, if you live in Bucks County, you will file your Divorce Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County. However, if your spouse lives in another state, it raises many complex issues, particularly if you have marital assets that need to be divided or are seeking support or alimony. In that event, you may need to file in the state in which your spouse resides. There are also certain residency requirements that may affect your right to obtain a divorce in Pennsylvania. However, if you have resided in Pennsylvania for more than six months, residency requirements should not be an issue. If your case involves any of these additional issues, seek professional help.
3. Process the Divorce.
After the Pennsylvania Divorce Complaint is filed, the next step to get divorced in Pennsylvania is to process the divorce. In simple non-fault divorces in which neither party is asking the court to award support or alimony, divide marital assets or order other relief, processing the divorce can be relatively straightforward. But it still involves executing and filing all of the necessary forms in the right order and at the right time. Among these forms are affidavits of service or acceptances of service, consents or affidavits of separation, notices or waivers of notices, and, finally, a praecipe for the divorce decree. Follow the relevant instructions for a Section 3301(c) or Section 3301(d) divorce, using the links above.
In more complex divorces such as those in which one spouse will not agree to the divorce, or which involve fault grounds, or which involve any economic issues such as support, alimony, or equitable distribution, processing the divorce is much more complicated. More complex divorces may involve discovery, such as document requests and interrogatories, appraisals, interim hearings and similar procedures before the divorce may be processed. In the event that a settlement of economic issues is not reached, more complex divorces also need to proceed to a Divorce Master’s hearing on economic issues and, possibly, a trial in front of a judge before the divorce can be processed and finalized.
4. Request the Court to Enter the Divorce Decree.
Only after all outstanding issues are resolved and the necessary paperwork is filed with the court can a party move a divorce to conclusion. Once those steps are completed, the final step to get divorced in Pennsylvania is to file a Praecipe for Entry of a Divorce Decree.
The length of time that it takes to get divorced in Pennsylvania can be anywhere from five months to several years, depending on the grounds for the divorce, the cooperation or lack thereof from the other spouse, and the issues involved in the divorce.