Filing No Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania

By Bernadette A. Safrath

Courts used to require a spouse to prove fault, or reasons for the failure of the marriage, such as abandonment or adultery, before a divorce action could be filed or granted. Pennsylvania, like many states, has changed this limitation and added the availability of no-fault grounds for divorce. Thus, a spouse can file for divorce in Pennsylvania so long as she has been a resident of the state for at least six months.

Filing Requirements

The filing spouse must file a Complaint for Divorce with Pennsylvania's Court of Common Pleas located in her county of residence. The county clerk manages any paperwork that must be filed, including financial statements, alimony requests and custody papers. The clerk will notify the spouses or their attorneys of any missing papers and of any hearings or other court appearances required.

Irretrievable Breakdown

"Irretrievable breakdown" is one ground for no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania. Irretrievable breakdown does not require either spouse to have committed misconduct leading to the end of the marriage. Instead, a spouse can file for divorce based on this ground if the marriage has broken down with no chance of reconciliation and the spouses have "lived separate and apart" for at least two years prior to filing.

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Mutual Consent

If spouses have not lived apart for more than two years, they can file for divorce based on "mutual consent." With this ground, spouses must have lived apart for at least 90 days. The spouses must agree the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown and file the divorce papers jointly.

Equitable Distribution

Before issuing a divorce decree, a Pennsylvania court must divide the marital property between the spouses. Pennsylvania is an "equitable distribution" state, which means that spouses each receive a fair percentage of the assets. When deciding what each spouse is entitled to, the court will consider each spouse's age, length of the marriage, value of each spouse's assets, each spouse's role in the marriage (wage earner vs. homemaker), and whether either spouse attempted to destroy, hide or improperly sell any marital asset in contemplation of the divorce.

Waiting Period

When a divorce is amicable and spouses agree to a property settlement, alimony issues and custody, a divorce can be issued without a trial. However, Pennsylvania law requires a waiting period, called the "cooling-off" period. This means that a court must wait 90 days from the date the complaint was filed before signing the final divorce decree.

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Do I Have to File an Answer to a Complaint in a Divorce in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, either spouse can file for divorce by completing a divorce complaint. The divorce complaint will state the names of both spouses and the reason for the divorce. If a spouse files a complaint for divorce, the other spouse has the option of filing a cross-complaint or answering the divorce complaint. However, whether he chooses to file an answer to the divorce complaint will depend on several factors, including whether he wishes to contest the divorce and issues raised in the divorce complaint.

Divorce Law on Infidelity in Pennsylvania

Spousal infidelity, referred to as adultery, continues to be recognized as a basis for divorce in Pennsylvania. If your spouse has been unfaithful, the degree to which you will be successful in obtaining a divorce based on that behavior will depend on whether you can prove the existence of the affair. Further, although the court is not allowed to take into account marital fault when making property determinations, adultery is one factor the court considers when deciding whether the cheating spouse should receive alimony.

Can You File for Divorce Anywhere?

The divorce process is governed entirely by state law. Often, significant differences between states regarding the recognized grounds for divorce and how matters related to custody, property, and spousal support are decided. However, you are not free to simply file in any jurisdiction you choose; you must meet the state specific residency requirements. These laws require you to have some connection with the state before pursuing a divorce action.

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