Learn how long a divorce can take in Pennsylvania and what factors and issues can prolong divorce proceedings from the Philadelphia divorce lawyers at Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman, LLC. A divorce in Pennsylvania can be completed in as little as 90 days or can take years depending on whether you file contested or uncontested.
This article explains how long a divorce in Pennsylvania can take, provides a brief break down of the process and timeline, and outlines factors which may affect the length of your divorce proceedings.
How Long Does a Divorce Take in PA?
Depending on whether you file contested or uncontested, a divorce in Pennsylvania may take between 90 days to a year or longer. Contested divorces take longer due the combative nature and resolving disagreements through litigation and reliance on the court’s schedule and both your lawyers’ caseloads. Uncontested divorces take a shorter amount of time as both parties agree to divorce but still take time depending on how the spouses agree on various elements including child custody, child support, and property division among others.
Pennsylvania Divorce Process
To file for divorce in Pennsylvania, one or both spouses must be a resident of Pennsylvania and have been so for at least the last six months. Once meeting that criterion, one spouse files a divorce complaint as plaintiff and names the other spouse as defendant.
Three aspects of a divorce determine how long it will take for the court to enter a divorce decree:
- Whether it is a mutual consent divorce or a contested divorce.
- Whether alimony, spousal support, division of marital property, and attorney’s fees need to be litigated.
- How complex the financial issues are.
Timeline for a Divorce in Pennsylvania
- Decide what type of divorce you want or need.
- Determining when you separated can be a complex issue. Speak to your lawyer about separation and the impact of it on your divorce and your property settlement agreement.
- File a divorce complaint.
- Receive a stamped filed copy of your complaint.
- Serve your complaint on your spouse, by an adult other than yourself. There are service-of-process businesses to do this for you.
- Divorces by mutual consent can resolve in as little as 4-6 months.
- Contested divorces can take from 6 months to over a year. You may or may not have a divorce trial.
- The court enters a divorce decree.
No-Fault Divorce in PA
All divorces are “no-fault” in Pennsylvania. Some divorces are with the consent of both parties and some are when only one party consents. If both parties consent, and the economics of the couple can be agreed to, then the divorce can proceed more quickly than if not. There are two types of no-fault divorces in PA.
Mutual Consent Divorce
Once a divorce complaint has been filed, served, and consented to by both parties, a 90-day period starts during which the couple can work out child custody, child support, spousal support, and distribution of marital assets and debts. If the couple cannot agree on any of these issues, they may have to litigate, which will take as much time as the court’s docket requires.
A non-consensual divorce requires the consent of only one of the parties and may be the only option available if the other party refuses to agree to divorce, cannot be found, or there is no agreement on division of assets and debts. Once the parties have been separated for one year, the court will grant a divorce to the party seeking it unilaterally, so long as the economics of the marriage have been addressed. If not, a hearing may be required to divide assets and debts.
Do You Need to Be Separated to Get a Divorce in PA?
You need to be separated to get a divorce in Pennsylvania. If you are proceeding with this type of divorce, 3301(d) requires you and your spouse to have lived “separate and apart” for one year. While “separate and apart” is usually interpreted as requiring spouses to be physically separated, spouses who continue living together but cease acting as a married couple, i.e., lead separate lives, can still obtain a divorce.
How Long an Uncontested Divorce Can Take in PA
“Uncontested” is the term used when both parties agree to divorce and also when the parties can agree on a resolution to issues arising from the dissolution of their marriage such as spousal support, alimony (if applicable, and distribution of marital assets. If this describes your divorce, chances are your divorce proceedings will proceed more quickly.
A divorce can be uncontested in that both parties wish to divorce, yet may require litigation of any of these issues. Litigation can extend the divorce process considerably.
To avoid delays in divorce caused by litigation, parties who cannot resolve their differences on their own should consider entering into divorce mediation. An experienced mediator can help the parties to arrive at a compromise.
Factors Affecting How Long a Divorce Can Take
It is natural to seek a speedy resolution for your divorce. A successful divorce means you can move past a painful chapter of your life. Unfortunately, many factors can affect the length of a divorce case.
1. Attorney Caseload
A divorce attorney with a high caseload likely has a solid reputation and obtains favorable results for their clients, which means their services are in high demand. Conversely, a high caseload also means an attorney has to divide their time and attention between multiple clients, which can prolong the divorce process. Despite having high caseloads, the divorce lawyers at Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman, can provide individualized services to meet each client’s unique needs.
2. Asset & Debt Disputes
Under Section 3502 of the Divorce Code Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution jurisdiction which means marital property is divided equitably, i.e., fairly between divorcing spouses. Similarly, under Section 3501(a), debt acquired by one or both spouses during a marriage is also treated as marital “property”, to be divided. It will take more time to resolve your divorce if you and your spouse cannot agree on how any marital property or debts will be divided because the Court will have to make a property division and debt apportionment decision.
3. Cooperation Between You & Your Spouse
It will take longer if you and your spouse are hostile and non-communicative. Stated simply, bitter spouses can use the divorce process to hurt or punish each other, which can cause the divorce process to become prolonged. As such, you should use your best efforts to be civil with your spouse during the divorce process.
4. Court Schedule
Despite the legal and constitutional authority surrounding the judicial system, a Court is essentially a large bureaucracy that processes a large volume of legal claims in a first come, first serve manner. Attorneys have little power to expedite divorce proceedings. As such, it will take longer to resolve your divorce if the Court hearing your case has a busy docket.
What Happens After the 90-Day Waiting Period for Divorce in PA?
If you and your spouse filed a mutual consent divorce under 3301(c), the Court can grant your divorce if you and your spouse file separate affidavits of consent and the economics of the marriage are resolved.
Your divorce lawyer can help you with filing, outlining the steps you need to follow to ensure as smooth a process as possible.
How Long Before a Divorce Gets Finalized?
If you and your spouse filed for mutual consent divorce and agreed on all issues, your divorce could be finalized within four to six months, depending on the number of cases on the Court’s docket. It will take longer to finalize your divorce if you or your spouse are contesting issues such as property division. This is because contested issues must be fully litigated, prolonging the divorce process.
The type of divorce you choose and the willingness of you both to agree on division of marital property and marital debts will determine how long your divorce will take in Pennsylvania. Couples can be divorced in as little as three months or can litigate marital issues for a much longer period of time.
Call Us for Help with Your Divorce
If you wish to divorce but aren’t sure which type of divorce is best for your situation, call the Pennsylvania divorce lawyers at Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman, LLC. We have over 40 years of combined experience helping people resolve issues arising from dissolution of their marriage. Let us help you.