Pennsylvania divorce details
Uncontested VS Contested Divorce in Pennsylvania
Basing on Fault and No-fault grounds, the Pennsylvania divorce can be Contested or Uncontested.
A contested divorce means a traditional one when the spouses are represented by their lawyers, who totally lead the case with all the nuances. The typical contested divorce case is rather complicated due to its initial causes and circumstances, so it usually involves a long litigation process, multiple court hearings, and interviews. A contested divorce can last a year and more, and its average cost is about $20 000.
So it's not surprising that when the situation allows to choose a different option and avoid time-consumed trials, custody battles and huge expenses, people typically file for an uncontested divorce, which costs much less and can be obtained in 4 months.
Uncontested Divorce in Pennsylvania
Uncontested divorce means a case when the spouses’ intention to end their marriage is mutual and no one has any serious complaints. It important for the couple to be able to reach an agreement in all aspects of their divorce from property division to custody issues.
Uncontested divorce often can be easily managed without an attorney. If the spouses are organized and careful, they can make a successful Settlement Agreement by themselves. It should provide the convenient conditions of the post-divorce life for each party.
Uncontested divorce is quite a non-stressful proceeding, which include the only one court hearing (the final hearing). An uncontested divorce doesn’t imply judicial interviewing of children and long disputes, so it is less harmful to you and your family emotional condition. Surely, the financial side is also attractive. You can save thousands of dollars on attorney's fees.
Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania
To get a divorce in Pennsylvania, you have to indicate the cause of the separation. PA laws recognise both Fault and No-fault grounds for divorce. Fault grounds mean that one spouse accuses the other of some misconduct, and the No-fault grounds tells about the conflict of interest and the mutual desire just to end up with the marriage without any serious blames.
- Fault grounds for divorce in PA:
- cruelty and domestic violence, danger for the health and life;
- imprisonment for at least 2 years;
- abusive conduct, which makes a marital life unbearable;
- abandonment for at least 1 year (without any reasonable cause).
- No-fault grounds for divorce in PA:
- mutual consent (just your agreed desire to divorce, without any explanations);
- irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (if you lived apart for at least 2 years).
Pennsylvania Residency Requirements to File for Divorce
Residency requirements for PA divorce are quite typical. To file a Petition for divorce in a certain Pennsylvania court you/your spouse/both of you must be a “bona fide” resident of PA for 6 months or more. “Bona fide” residence means that the person permanently lives in the state and is going to live here and hereinafter.
Despite it’s no difference whether a Petitioner or the Respondent is a resident of PA, most divorces in US are filed in the Petitioner’s county and state.
How to File for an Uncontested Divorce in Pennsylvania?
So, to obtain an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania you must meet the relevant residency requirements and indicate your divorce case as no-fault and agreed (mutual consent).
Next, there are 5 basic steps that you must take to get a divorce. They are:
- Making a Settlement agreement. You can negotiate with your spouse to sort out all the details of your case before or after filing for divorce, but if you prepare it earlier, your divorce may take less time.
- Filing a divorce Petition under a no-fault ground.
- Serving your spouse with the paperwork. Both of the spouses have to fill out an Affidavit form, to show they are agreed on all divorce issues.
- After the Affidavits are submitted to the court, the “cooling-off” period begins. It is 90 days in Pennsylvania before the final court hearing can be scheduled. You can use this time to make an agreement, attend mediation sessions, and so on.
- The final hearing. If the court is all right with your case, the divorce can be finalized soon after the waiting period has passed. Attend the short final hearing and get the copies of the final Divorce decree.
Do-It-Yourself Divorce in Pennsylvania
If your divorce case is uncontested, you may be the good candidate for a DIY divorce, which means a divorce process without a help of an attorney.
You should complete all the mentioned above steps, but notice, that a do-it-yourself divorce demands you to be responsible and organized. You should learn state family laws and county court requirements to be confident in what forms are needed to be filled out in your certain case.
If you have children or lots of assets and real property, it may complicate your case, even if you and your spouse are aimed to negotiate in a civilized and constructive manner. So don’t forget that you always can visit several mediation sessions or even hire a lawyer for only one specific part of your agreement (for example, to calculate children support, to settle custody issues etc.)
How Much Does an Uncontested Divorce Cost?
As a filing fee and other court fees vary widely according to the county in PA, the whole cost of your uncontested DIY divorce can range from $300 up to $2000.
Using mediation you can spend about $6000 (the mediator’s fee is charged hourly, so it depends on how many sessions you need).
An uncontested divorce with the lawyer’s help may cost about $10 000.
How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced in Pennsylvania?
An average time for an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania is about 4 months. This not so short term (as for “mutual consent” case) is caused by the long “cooling-off” period, that lasts 90 days in Pennsylvania. The cooling-off period is the time between filing a Complaint and attending the final hearing.
And, finally, an average contested divorce proceeding, in PA, usually lasts about one year which is at least three times longer!
Papers & Documents You Need to Get a Divorce in Pennsylvania
If you have some complicated divorce issues you may need to complete several additional forms, but there is a basic set of forms you need to fill out for any uncontested divorce case. Here’s the list:
- Notice to Defend, Complaint and Verification (Form 1).
Notice to Defend implies a standard information needed when a document is filed in court in PA (whatever, divorce or any other case). Complaint is a request to get a divorce. And Verification tells that your information is correct.
- Acceptance of Service (Form 3a).
This form is need to show that a Defendant (Respondent) knows that a complaint has been filed, and he was served with mentioned above forms copies.
- Affidavit of Consent (Form 5a and 5b).
This form must be filed within 30 days after it was signed. It verifies that everything filed is true.
- Waiver of Notice (Form 6a and 6b).
- Transmit Record (Form 12).
This form is a request for the divorce to be entered into record.
- Divorce decree (Form 13).
You must provide the court with self-addressed and stamped envelopes so the court could mail you a copy of the final divorce decree.
How to Serve Your Spouse in Pennsylvania
There are three ways how to serve your spouse with divorce papers in PA. All of them involve a third party, so notice, that you are not allowed to hand the documents personally. Choose one of these options:
- Service by sheriff. You can request it when filing a Petition in court. You should pay a fee, and the sheriff will hand the copies to your spouse. Then the sheriff claims that your spouse was served with the special paper called “return of service”.
- Private process service. There are special private process service companies for such cases, but, actually, any of your relatives or friends who are older than 18 can serve your spouse with the documents. It must be done face-to-face and after that, you must be provided with an Affidavit of Service (as a proof the job is completed).
- Certified mail. This way is suitable if your spouse lives far from you. Notice, that the postman must hand-deliver the envelope to your spouse and get his/her signature on the receipt.
Online Divorce in Pennsylvania
Though online divorce is not allowed in Pennsylvania, you still can use the help of online documentation services like this one, to get all the necessary forms for your uncontested divorce. It is a good idea if you want to save your time and share the responsibility (so you do not have to fill out the documents again, if you did something wrong).
After a short online interview, you can obtain your unique and adapted to your circumstances documents kit instantly and at a reasonable price. Also, you can get an online support.
Rules for Child Support and Visitation in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law is aimed to ensure "best interests of the child", which are provided by close contact with both parents and the involvement of each of them in the upbringing process. Though the law assumes both the role of a custodial and non-custodial parent, there is a legal presumption that both parents have equal rights to the child. Also, the new law includes a gender-neutrality provision, that claims that both father and mother can be equally competent caregivers, and there is an opportunity of joint custody if it so.
State law doesn’t imply any special strict rules on visitation, so each case is considered separately by the court. But unless any dangerous issue exists, all non-custodial parents are allowed to use their parenting time more or less. Even those parents who have a history of alcohol/drug abuse can have visitation rights, but in such cases, it will be supervised visitation.
The child support in Pennsylvania is a payment to help with the expenses of raising children, which is calculated and ordered by the court. The support amount is calculated according to the formula, that takes into account income of each parent, healthcare and everyday expenses, and other reasonable needs of the child. Once the support amount was calculated the judge must review it every 4 years.
Rules for Spousal Support in Pennsylvania
Spousal support in Pennsylvania is a financial support from the spouse who has a higher income, to the other. It is paid while the divorce is in progress.
And a support that's paid after the divorce is final is called Alimony in PA.
PA laws don’t provide the special formula for alimony calculation, but there is a long list of factors that must be considered by courts at the time of ordering an alimony.
Also, the alimony order can be changed when the spouse’s financial circumstances are changing.
Division of Property in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is one of the equitable distribution states, that implies that during the divorce, all the marital property is divided in an "equitable”, but not “equal” way. The court tries to consider a lot of important facts and to divide the property fairly. The sole property is not divided. So, the main step to make your Separation Agreement and prepare yourself for the property division in the court is to determine what of your property considered to be marital, and what is the sole property.
- Marital property includes:
- all the property that is acquired and earned by each of the spouses during the marriage. There is no difference in whose name it is registered.
- gifts from the one spouse to another, if they were acquired with marital money.
- businesses and retirement payments (if acquired in family life).
- Sole property includes:
- all the property acquired prior to marriage.
- the property acquired in exchange for property acquired prior to marriage.
Notice! One spouse’s gifts and inheritances in certain cases can be defined both as sole and marital property as well.
Division of Debt in Pennsylvania
In PA, debt is the part of a property, so debts are also may be defined as marital or separate. So, they are divided on the same principle as the rest of the property. The judge should consider every case as unique, according to such factors as length of the marriage, income of both spouses, their marital history, how one spouse contributed to other’s earning potential, the character of the custody agreement if any, and so on.
Divorce Mediation in Pennsylvania
Divorce mediation became popular in PA since a “no-fault” kind of separation was added to divorce laws. It inspired a lot of people to get a divorce without long trials, and spouses began to communicate to each other directly, not through their attorneys. Mediation revealed itself as an alternative way to resolve some most difficult issues of the divorce case.
During the mediation session, the spouses negotiate with the help of an impartial third party. The mediator helps to make a Separation Agreement with no personal preferences to one of the spouses. There are no ways to win or lose this deal. The aim of mediation is seeking of mutually profitable and convenience compromise.
The mediation is not compulsory in PA. Usually, the couple attends the orientation session to understand whether they are interested in it, and the mediator has a chance to explain how the mediation can help to deal more effectively with your agreement. In a few words, mediation is rather kind of therapy than a legal assistance.
How to Divorce a Missing Spouse in Pennsylvania
When you want to get divorce, but have no idea where your spouse is, you can file for divorce by publication. But it not so easy in Pennsylvania, so you should make some certain steps:
- To convince a judge that you really cannot find your spouse and a divorce by publication, you should conduct a so-called Diligent search. This process includes checking your spouse’s addresses, voter registration records, tax rolls, driver’s license records and other. Also you can ask friends, relatives and former employers.
- Then, complete an Affidavit of Diligent Search and notarize it. This paper must prove all the attempts at seeking your spouse.
- File a Motion for service by publication. The court considers both documents, and the court clerk issues an Order of publication.
- The notice about your case must be published in the local newspaper (in the last known place of your spouse’s residence), under the rubric of Legal Notices.
If there is still no an answer, the court will review your petition and grant you the divorce by default.
The most common circumstances of getting a divorce by default are described above: one of the spouses doesn’t respond to the petition and there are no ways to locate him/her.
But it happens that the respondent just fails to attend the court hearing for some other reasons. In that case, a default divorce also can be granted.
Notice, that in case of default divorce, the judge decides that as the respondent ignores court appearances there is no reason to take into account his/ her interests. The default divorce considers only Petitioner’s demands & requests.
Annulment of the Marriage in Pennsylvania
Annulment differs from divorce in that it cancels, just erases a marriage, as if it never happened. Spouses do not need to make a Separate Agreement or allocate some responsibilities due to the annulment.
In Pennsylvania, there two types of grounds to annul the marriage. The state’s law names them grounds for void and for voidable marriage.
- Void marriages are not legal, prohibited by law. But! The change of circumstances (if a main problem is removed and the spouses continue to love together) can make a void marriage valid. Among void marriages are bigamous or polygamous marriages, underage marriages (under 18), mental incapacity or incompetence.
- Voidable marriages, vice versa, are those, that are originally valid but can become void under some circumstances. These grounds can be waived too. Among voidable marriages are underage marriage (under 16), intoxicated marriage under the influence of alcohol or drugs (must be annul within 60 days), fraud marriage, or if a spouse is unable to have sexual intercourse.
Legal Separation in Pennsylvania
There is no such concept as Legal Separation in Pennsylvania. If you don’t live together and don’t want to remain married presently, the divorce is the only way to deal with it in PA.
To prepare for your future separation, lawyers advise to stop living together before filing a Petition, and to make common acquaintances known about your intentions.
Same-Sex Divorce in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania legally recognized same-gender marriages in May 2014 only, that made it the last state of the Northeast region allowed same-sex couples to marry legally.
Fortunately, after the Supreme Court ruling in 2015, same-sex marriage is placed in an equal position with a male-female marriage in all US states. All the courts must provide the same services based on the same rules and laws for all people who are aimed to get married or to get a divorce and so on.
Military Divorce in Pennsylvania
Actually, the grounds and rules for military divorce are the same as for civil. One of the spouses is a Petitioner, and the other - a Respondent - must be served with the copies of paperwork and respond to the petition.
However, there are laws that protect an active duty military members against a divorce by default. Surely, it may happen that the military spouse cannot answer the Petition in time. So, according to the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act , the divorce proceeding can be postponed for the time since an active military member is on duty + 60 additional days after that. But if a military spouse wants to get a divorce as soon as possible, this opportunity to postpone a divorce process can be waived by him/her.
How to Divorce a Spouse in Jail in Pennsylvania
Generally, the incarceration (for two years or more) is on of the legal fault grounds for divorce in PA.
When the inmate’s sentence is less than two years or you agree to get the no-fault divorce, the divorce proceeding still can be ordered without hearing. Such divorce case can take about 90 days from the filing the Petition. And you must live separately for two years before the divorce is started.
Pennsylvania Divorce Filing Fee
Filing fee is a pay for a divorce complaint. It is mandatory fee that charges at the time you file a Petition for divorce. Filing fees vary greatly due to the particular county. So, you should pay between $80 (in Indiana county) to $364 (in Cumberland County). And in some counties, the fee for complaint depends on whether you want to file for an uncontested divorce or not ($200 and $500, respectively, in Monroe County).
Additional court fee may be charged if the custody issues are involved and so on.
Can a Filing Fee Be Waived?
As in other states, you can file a request to waive the filing fee in Pennsylvania.
For that you must file a special form (Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and Affidavit and Order) and prove the judge that you really experience a financial hardship.
How We Can Help
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