When spouses hotly contest issues between them, this invariably requires at least one court appearance so a judge can resolve the disputes before granting them a divorce. This is true in every state. However, if you and your spouse can reach an agreement on all issues between you, Pennsylvania is particularly lenient about allowing you to divorce without appearing in court. The state’s legislation offers two options if you and your spouse want to be divorced with a minimum of fuss.
Mutual Consent Divorce
You can finalize a mutual consent divorce in Pennsylvania in about three months and without attending a court hearing. The spouse filing the complaint for divorce must use the no-fault ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Each spouse must also complete and sign an affidavit, giving consent to the divorce. You must file the affidavits with the court simultaneously with the complaint. If you agree on the terms of your divorce, a judge will grant it 90 days after you file your initial paperwork, and you won’t have to appear in court.
Even if your spouse does not submit an affidavit consenting to the divorce, you may still be able to avoid a court appearance. You must file on the no-fault ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. However, if you don't have your spouse’s affidavit of consent, Pennsylvania requires a two-year separation before you can file on this ground. Pennsylvania does not require that you live in separate households during this time, but you have to end the marital relationship. If your spouse does not file an answer to your complaint, alleging either that your marriage is not broken or that you haven’t lived separate lives for two years, the court will usually grant your divorce within about a month. If he does argue that your marriage is not broken or that you haven’t ended your relationship, the court will order a hearing to give him an opportunity to object to the divorce.
Marital Settlement Agreements
With both a mutual consent divorce or a no-fault divorce based on two years’ separation, you must submit a marital settlement agreement to the court to avoid a court appearance. Spouses usually file such an agreement with the complaint and their petitions for a mutual consent divorce. A judge will end the marriage according to the terms of the agreement three months later. However, you can also submit your agreement at any time during the 90-day waiting period. If your spouse does not contest your no-fault ground of two years’ separation, avoidance of a court appearance also hinges on providing the court with a written settlement agreement. If you file on one of Pennsylvania’s fault grounds, such as adultery or extreme cruelty, you will usually have to appear in court even if you and your spouse reach an settlement and submit it to the court. Pennsylvania requires the spouse alleging the fault ground to appear before a judge and testify to the validity of the ground.
One of Pennsylvania’s fault grounds involves insanity or a serious mental disorder on the part of your spouse. He must be institutionalized for 18 months before you file for divorce, and there must be no reasonable expectation that he’ll leave the institution in the next 18 months. If you can support this with documented proof, you may not have to appear in court because you’re not actually attesting that he did anything wrong. If this sort of situation applies to you, speak with an attorney to find out the simplest way to end your marriage.