Pennsylvania divorce details
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Uncontested VS Contested Divorce in Pennsylvania
Basing on Fault and No-fault grounds, divorce in Pennsylvania can be contested or uncontested.
A contested divorce means a traditional one when the spouses are represented by their lawyers. 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 or more, and its average cost is about $20,000.
So it's not surprising that when the situation allows a different option and avoid time-consuming trials, custody battles, and huge expenses, people typically file for an uncontested divorce. Such a process costs much less and can be obtained in 4 months.
Uncontested Divorce in Pennsylvania
Uncontested divorce is when the spouses’ intention to end their marriage is mutual and neither has any serious complaints. It is 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 can often 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 includes only one court hearing (the final hearing). An uncontested divorce doesn’t imply judicial interviewing of children and long disputes, so it has less of an impact on you and your family’s emotional condition. The financial side is also attractive as you can save thousands of dollars on attorney fees.
Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania
To get a divorce in Pennsylvania, you have to indicate the cause of the separation. Pennsylvania laws recognise both Fault and No-fault grounds for divorce. Fault grounds mean that one spouse accuses the other of some misconduct, and No-fault grounds indicates that there a conflict of interest and the mutual desire to terminate the marriage.
Fault grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania include:
- Cruelty and domestic violence;
- Imprisonment for at least 2 years;
- Abusive conduct that makes marital life unbearable;
- Abandonment for at least 1 year (without any reasonable cause).
No-fault grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania include:
- Mutual consent (agreed desire to divorce, without any explanations);
- Irretrievable breakdown of marriage (if you lived apart for at least 2 years).
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Pennsylvania Residency Requirements to File for Divorce
Residency requirements for divorce in Pennsylvania are quite typical. To file a Petition for divorce in a certain Pennsylvania court you or your spouse must be a “bona fide” resident of Pennsylvania for 6 months or more. “Bona fide” residence means that the person permanently lives in the state and is going to live there and hereinafter.
Although there is no difference whether a Petitioner or the Respondent is a resident of Pennsylvania, most divorces in the US are filed in the Petitioner’s county and state.
How to File for an Uncontested Divorce in Pennsylvania
In order 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:
- Make 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.
- File a divorce Petition under a no-fault ground.
- Serve your spouse with the paperwork. Both you and your spouse have to fill out an Affidavit form, to show that you agree on all the 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.
- Attend the final hearing. If the court approves your case, the divorce can be finalized soon after the waiting period has passed. Attend the short final hearing and get copies of the final Divorce decree.
Do-It-Yourself Divorce in Pennsylvania
If your divorce case is uncontested, you may be a good candidate for a DIY divorce, which means a divorce process without the help of an attorney.
You should complete all the steps mentioned above. However, note that a do-it-yourself divorce demands you to be responsible and organized. You should learn the 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 negotiate in a civilized and constructive manner. You can always attend several mediation sessions or even hire a lawyer for a specific part of your agreement (for example, to calculate children support or to settle custody issues).
How Much Does an Uncontested Divorce Cost?
As the filing fee and other court fees vary widely according to the county in Pennsylvania, the whole cost of your uncontested DIY divorce can range from $300 to $2,000.
Mediation sessions can cost you about $6,000 (the mediator’s fee is charged hourly, so it depends on how many sessions you need).
An uncontested divorce with a lawyer’s help may cost about $10,000.
How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced in Pennsylvania?
The average time for an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania is about 4 months. This term (as for “mutual consent” case) is determined 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.
On the other hand, an average contested divorce proceeding in Pennsylvania usually lasts about one year.
How to Serve Your Spouse in Pennsylvania
There are three ways how to serve your spouse with the divorce documents. All of them involve a third party, so note that you are not allowed to hand the documents personally.
- 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. 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 any of your relatives or friends who are over the age of 18 can serve your spouse with the documents. It must be done face-to-face and you must be provided with an Affidavit of Service (as proof that the job is completed).
- Certified mail. This method is suitable if your spouse lives far from you. Note that the postman must hand-deliver the envelope to your spouse and get their signature on the receipt.
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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 below is a basic set of forms you need to fill out for any uncontested divorce case.
- Notice to Defend, Complaint and Verification (Form 1).
Notice to Defend implies the standard information needed when a document is filed in court in Pennsylvania. Complaint is a request to get a divorce and Verification states that your information is correct.
- Acceptance of Service (Form 3a).
This form is needed to show that the Defendant (Respondent) is aware that a complaint has been filed, and that they were served with the necessary paperwork.
- 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 a self-addressed and stamped envelopes so that the court could mail you a copy of the final divorce decree.
Online Divorce in Pennsylvania
Though online divorce is not allowed in Pennsylvania, you still can use the help of online documentation services like ours to get all the necessary forms for your uncontested divorce. It is a good idea if you want to save time and share the responsibility (so that you do not have to fill out the documents again if you do something wrong).
After a short online interview, you can obtain your unique packet of documents that fit your individual circumstances at a reasonable price. You can also get online support.
Rules for Child Support and Visitation in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law is aimed to ensure the "best interests of the child". This implies 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 parents can be equally competent caregivers. 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. Unless any dangerous issue exists, all non-custodial parents are allowed to use their parenting time more or less. Even parents who have a history of alcohol/drug abuse can have visitation rights. But in such cases, it will be supervised visitation.
Child support in Pennsylvania is a payment to help with the expenses of raising the children, which is calculated and ordered by the court. The support amount is calculated according to a formula that takes into account the income of each parent, healthcare and everyday expenses, and other reasonable needs of the child. Once the support amount is calculated, the judge must review it every 4 years.
Rules for Spousal Support in Pennsylvania
Spousal support in Pennsylvania is financial support from the spouse who has a higher income, to the other. It is paid while the divorce is in progress.
And support that is paid after the divorce is referred to as alimony in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania 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 change.
Division of Property in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is one of the equitable distribution states. This implies that during the divorce, all marital property is divided in an "equitable”, but not “equal” way. The court tries to consider a lot of important factors to divide the property fairly. Sole property is not divided. The main step is to make your separation agreement and to distinguish between separate and marital 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 under.
- Gifts from one spouse to the other, 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.
- Property acquired in exchange for property acquired prior to marriage.
Note that one spouse’s gifts and inheritances in certain cases can be defined as both sole and marital property as well.
Division of Debt in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, debt is part of property. As a result, debts are also defined as marital or separate and are divided under the same principles as property. The judge should consider every case as unique, according to factors such as the length of marriage, income of both spouses, their marital history, contribution of each spouse to the other’s earning potential, the character of the custody agreement if any, and so on.
Divorce Mediation in Pennsylvania
Divorce mediation became popular in Pennsylvania 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 directly to each other, and not through their attorneys. Mediation revealed itself as an alternative way to resolve some of the 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. The aim of mediation is to seek a mutually profitable and convenient compromise.
Mediation is not compulsory in Pennsylvania. Usually, the couple attends the orientation session to understand whether they are interested in it, and the mediator has a chance to explain how it can help to deal more effectively with your agreement. In other words, mediation is a type of therapy than legal assistance.
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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. However, it is not so easy in Pennsylvania, so you should take certain steps:
- You must first convince the judge that you really cannot find your spouse and 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. You can also ask friends, relatives and former employers.
- Then, complete an Affidavit of Diligent Search and notarize it. This paper proves all the attempts you made to look for 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 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 when one of the spouses doesn’t respond to the petition and there is no way to locate them.
But it so happens that the respondent just fails to attend the court hearing for some other reasons. In that case, a default divorce can still be granted.
Note that in case of default divorce, the judge decides that as the respondent ignores court appearances, there is no reason to take into account their interests. The default divorce only considers the Petitioner’s demands & requests.
Annulment of Marriage in Pennsylvania
Annulment differs from divorce in that it cancels a marriage, as if it never happened. Spouses do not need to make a separate agreement or allocate responsibilities.
In Pennsylvania, there are two types of grounds to annul a marriage. The state’s law names these grounds as void and voidable marriage.
- Void marriages are not legal and prohibited by law. However, the change of circumstances (if the main issue is resolved) can make a void marriage valid. Among void marriages are bigamous or polygamous marriages, underage marriages (under the age of 18), mental incapacity, or incompetence.
- Voidable marriages 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 the age of 16), intoxicated marriage under the influence of alcohol or drugs (must be annulled 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, divorce is the only way to terminate a marriage in Pennsylvania.
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. This made it the last state of the Northeast region to allow same-sex couples to marry legally.
Fortunately, after the Supreme Court ruling in 2015, same-sex marriage was placed in an equal position as heterosexual marriage in all US states. All the courts must provide the same services based on the same rules and laws for all people who wish to get married or divorced.
Military Divorce in Pennsylvania
The grounds and rules for military divorce are the same as for civil divorces. The Petitioner must serve the Respondent with all the necessary paperwork for divorce and the Respondent must answer the Petition.
However, there are laws that protect an active duty military members against a divorce by default. According to the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act , the divorce proceeding can be postponed for the time an active military member is on duty plus an additional 60 days after that. However, if a military spouse wants to get a divorce as soon as possible, this opportunity to postpone a divorce process can be waived by them.
How to Divorce a Spouse in Jail in Pennsylvania
Generally, the incarceration (for two years or more) is one of the legal fault grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania.
When the inmate’s sentence is less than two years or you agree to get a no-fault divorce, the divorce proceeding can still be ordered without a hearing. Such divorce case can take about 90 days from the time the Petition is filed. Furthermore, you must live separately for two years before the divorce starts.
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Pennsylvania Divorce Filing Fee
Court filing fees are in addition to the cost of using DivorceFiller.com. This cost may vary by county. Please check with your local courthouse to determine the exact amount.
Can a Filing Fee Be Waived?
As in other states, you can file a request to waive the filing fee in Pennsylvania.
You must file a special form (Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and Affidavit and Order) and prove to the judge that you are really in a financial hardship.
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