Divorce Guide

Divorce Guide


Divorce Laws in Pennsylvania



Residency Requirements for Divorce in Pennsylvania
Either spouse must have been a resident of Pennsylvania for at least 6 months before filing. The divorce may be filed for in a county where: (1) the defendant resides; (2) the plaintiff resides, if the defendant does not live in Pennsylvania; (3) the marriage home was, if the plaintiff continuously resided in the same county; (4) prior to 6 months after separation, and if the defendant agrees, the plaintiff resides; (5) prior to 6 months after separation, and if neither spouse lives in the county of the marriage home, either spouse lives; and (6) after 6 months after separation, either spouse lives.

Legal Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

  1. No Fault Divorce:
    1. Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage with the spouses living separate and apart without cohabitation for 2 years (or)
    2. irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and the spouses have both filed affidavits that they consent to the divorce
    In the case of no-fault ground 1, the court may delay the case for 90 to 120 days if it appears that there is a reasonable chance for reconciliation. In the case of no-fault ground 2, 90 days must elapse after the filing for divorce before the court will grant a divorce.
  2. General Divorce:
    1. Adultery
    2. bigamy
    3. imprisonment for 2 or more years
    4. confinement for incurable insanity for 18 months
    5. willful desertion for 1 year
    6. cruel and inhuman treatment endangering the life of the spouse
    7. personal indignities

Legal Separation in Pennsylvania
The spouses may enter into a binding separation agreement if it is made on reasonable terms. There is no residency requirement specified by statute.

Simplified/Special Divorce Procedures in Pennsylvania
The spouses may file for divorce on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and if both spouses consent to the divorce, it will be handled in an expedited manner. There are official sample forms for filing a complaint for divorce on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. There are also official forms available for filing the required affidavit of consent. There are also other sample divorce proceeding forms available in Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, Actions of Divorce of Annulment Section, Rule 1920.01+. In addition, separation agreements are expressly authorized.

Divorce Mediation in Pennsylvania
If the court determines that there is a reasonable prospect for reconciliation, it may order the spouses to seek counseling for a period of between 90 and 120 days. Upon the request of 1 of the spouses, 3 counseling sessions may be required. If no reconciliation is reached and 1 of the spouses states that the marriage is irretrievably broken, a divorce may be granted. Counseling sessions may also be ordered by the court in conjunction with child custody and are mandatory if a parent has been convicted of a violent or abusive crime.

Divorce Property Distribution
Pennsylvania is an "equitable distribution" state. Separate property that is:

  1. acquired prior to the marriage
  2. acquired in exchange for any separate property
  3. any gifts and inheritances
  4. any property designated as separate in a valid agreement between the spouses, will be retained by the spouse owning it
All other marital property will be divided equitably, without regard to any marital misconduct, based on the following factors:
  1. the contribution or dissipation of each spouse to the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of each spouse as homemaker
  2. the age and health of the spouses
  3. the vocational skills of the spouses
  4. the value of each spouse's property
  5. the economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property is to become effective
  6. the length of the marriage
  7. the tax consequences to each spouse
  8. the occupation of the spouses
  9. the amount and sources of income of the spouses, including retirement and any other benefits
  10. the vocational skills of the spouses
  11. the employability of the spouses
  12. the liabilities and needs of each spouse and the opportunity of each for further acquisition of capital assets and income
  13. the standard of living established during the marriage
  14. whether a spouse will have custody of any minor children
  15. any contributions toward the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse
  16. any prior marital obligations
  17. any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the spouses
The court may require a spouse to purchase or maintain life insurance and name the other spouse as beneficiary. Both spouses will be required to submit an inventory and appraisal of their property.

Alimony and Spousal Support
Alimony may be awarded to either spouse if necessary. In determining the alimony award, the following factors are considered:

  1. whether the spouse seeking alimony lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her own needs
  2. whether the spouse is unable to be self-supporting through appropriate employment
  3. whether the spouse seeking alimony is the custodian of a child
  4. the time necessary to acquire sufficient education and training to enable the spouse to find appropriate employment and that spouse's future earning capacity
  5. any tax consequences
  6. the standard of living established during the marriage
  7. the duration of the marriage
  8. the financial resources of the spouse seeking alimony, including marital property apportioned to such spouse and such spouse's separate property
  9. the comparative financial resources of the spouses
  10. the needs and obligations of each spouse
  11. the contribution of each spouse to the marriage, including services rendered in homemaking
  12. the age of the spouses
  13. the physical, mental, and emotional conditions of the spouses
  14. the probable duration of the need of the spouse seeking support and alimony
  15. the educational level of each spouse at the time of the marriage and the time necessary for the spouse to acquire sufficient education to find appropriate employment
  16. the contribution by 1 spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other
  17. the spouse's sources of income, including medical, insurance, retirement benefits, inheritances, assets, and liabilities, and any property brought into the marriage by either spouse
  18. any marital misconduct any other factor the court deems just and equitable
There are official spousal support guidelines now in use in Pennsylvania and these are presumed to be correct unless there is a showing that the amount would be unjust or inappropriate under the particular circumstances of a case. Alimony payments may be ordered to be paid through the Domestic Relations Section of the court.

Spouse's Name After Divorce
Any person may resume the use of his or her former or maiden name upon divorce. A written notice to that effect must be filed in the office of the prothonotary of the court where the divorce was entered.

Child Custody After Divorce
Joint (shared) or sole custody may be awarded based on the best interests of the child and upon a consideration of the following factors:

  1. which parent is more likely to encourage, permit, and allow frequent and continuing contact, including physical access between the other parent and the child
  2. whether either parent has engaged in any violent, criminally sexual, abusive, or harassing behavior
  3. the preference of the child
  4. any factor that affects the child's physical, intellectual, or emotional well-being
Both parents may be required to attend counseling sessions regarding child custody. The recommendations of the counselor may be used in determining child custody. In shared custody situations, the court may also require the parents to submit a written plan for child custody to the court.

Child Support After Divorce
Either or both parents may be ordered to provide child support according to their ability to pay. The factors for consideration set out by statute are:

  1. the net income of the parents
  2. the earning capacity of the parents
  3. the assets of the parents
  4. any unusual needs of the child or the parents
  5. any extraordinary expenses
Child support payments may be ordered to be paid through the Domestic Relations Section of the court. There are official child support guidelines available and these are presumed to be correct unless there is a showing that the amount would be unjust of inappropriate under the particular circumstances of a case. The court may require that health insurance coverage be provided for any child if it is available at a reasonable cost. Child support payments may be ordered to be paid through the Domestic Relations Section of the court.


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