Getting Divorced in Pennsylvania: A Step-by-Step Guide
Every state has their own way of structuring their divorce laws. Whether you have lived in Pennsylvania for a short time or a lifetime, you may not have ever given much thought to the state’s divorce laws unless you are currently in the process of filing for divorce.
The process of filing for divorce in Pennsylvania is more complicated than simply filling out a few forms, especially if your spouse does not agree with your intention to separate. If you are planning to file for divorce in Pennsylvania, consider this article as a quick overview of the process, so that you can be prepared to engage in productive conversations with a seasoned divorce attorney.
Know the Terminology
If you are initiating the divorce process, you will do so by filing a document known as the “complaint”, and you will thereafter be referred to as the “plaintiff” in divorce documents and records. Your spouse will be referred to as the “defendant”.
Meet the Residency Requirement
Pennsylvania law requires at least one spouse to have been living in the state for at least 6 months prior to officially filing for divorce. Make sure you have access to proof of residency (e.g. mortgage/rent bills, utility bills, etc.) when preparing your complaint.
Determine Grounds for Divorce
Once you have established the residency requirement, it is time to choose what grounds upon which you will file divorce. Pennsylvania law allows you to file for divorce based on:
- Mutual consent (i.e. “no fault” divorce)
- One year of separation, where spouses are living in separate locations
- Fault-based reasons for divorce (detailed below)
Fault-based divorces are filed for reasons such as desertion, cruelty/abuse, or adultery. In Pennsylvania, fault-based divorces are somewhat less common because of the relatively streamlined process of mutual consent/no fault divorces. However, one important consideration is the impact of alimony payment amounts in a fault versus no fault divorce.
File the Complaint
When the complaint has been filled out, it is time to file. In Pennsylvania, the Court of Common Pleas in each county will handle divorce cases. The plaintiff can file for divorce in the county in which either the plaintiff or defendant currently lives. Be advised that fees will apply, but you may be able to waive these fees by completing a Petition for Proceed in Forma Pauperis.
Serve Divorce Papers to Your Spouse
Serving your spouse with divorce papers is not as simple as driving to their residence or dropping it in the mail. A process server, or even a sheriff, will need to be hired to serve the spouse the divorce papers.
Determine the Need for Trial
In some cases, a couple can resolve their case rather quickly through the use of a mediator or through a settlement agreement. However, if these measures are not successful or viable in your situation, you will need to elicit the services of an experienced divorce attorney and prepare for trial.
Talk to A Trusted Professional
The Media divorce lawyers at Barbara Flum Stein & Associates have been helping couples for over thirty years as they navigate the complexities of divorce proceedings. Contact our offices today to get your questions answered and ensure your divorce is managed responsibly and professionally.