Pennsylvania doesn’t require you to hire a lawyer to get a divorce, and the state makes it relatively easy for you to handle your matter yourself. However, you might benefit from at least consulting with an attorney before you draw up a divorce agreement. Pennsylvania law does not allow courthouse staff to answer legal questions for you, so do your research ahead of time.
Draw up a complaint for divorce. You can get a form from the court or online. Pennsylvania offers a divorce ground of “mutual consent.” You can use this if you’re reasonably sure you and your spouse will be able to reach a settlement without involving the court.
File an original and two copies of your complaint with the prothonotary in the court of common pleas in the county where either you or your spouse is currently living. Except in Philadelphia County, you will also need to file a civil court cover letter. You can get this from the prothonotary's office and fill it out at the time you file.
Serve your spouse with a copy of your complaint. Pennsylvania requires official service even if you’re filing by mutual consent. If you don’t do this within 30 days, you’ll have to re-file your complaint and start all over again. Pennsylvania allows you to send your complaint to your spouse by certified mail.
Meet with your spouse to iron out the details of your divorce agreement. Philadelphia County offers a form you can complete. Otherwise, you can simply type the agreement yourself. Explain how you’re going to divide your property and your debts, and detail your custody and visitation arrangement.
Use Pennsylvania’s Support Guideline Computation, available either online or at your courthouse, to figure out how much child support is payable. Include this number and a provision for child support in your written agreement.
Wait Pennsylvania’s statutory 90-day period for a divorce by mutual consent. When the time expires, file your remaining paperwork with the court. This includes the original and two copies of your settlement agreement, an affidavit of consent, a waiver of notice of intention to request entry of a divorce decree, a praecipe to transmit record, a praecipe of service and a state statistical form. All of these forms should be available through the prothonotary’s office at your courthouse.
Tips & Warnings
Pennsylvania does not require you to appear in court for a divorce by mutual consent. You’ll receive your signed decrees in the mail, usually about two weeks after you file your last paperwork.
Pennsylvania also offers six fault grounds. If you use one of them, you’d have to prove it to the court, and your divorce might get too contentious for you to be able to adequately handle it without legal representation.
If you and your spouse can't reach an agreement, you will probably need a lawyer to help you navigate through a contested divorce. You’ll have to file inventories of your assets with the court along with appraisals of their value, and attend a pre-trial conference. If you still can’t settle at the conference with the help of the judge, you will eventually have to go to trial.
References & Resources
- Lancaster County, PA Government Online: Court Self Help Center – How to File for Divorce (PDF)
- Divorce Source: Pennsylvania State Divorce Laws
- DivorceLawInfo.com: Pennsylvania Divorce Law
- DivorceLine.org: Pennsylvania Divorce Procedures
- Lisa Marie Vari & Associates: Beaver County Pennsylvania Divorce Procedures
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images