Pennsylvania used to be a fault-based divorce state, meaning spouses could only get divorced by proving marital misconduct. However, the state became a no-fault divorce jurisdiction in 1980, allowing Pennsylvanian couples to divorce without requiring fault grounds from either spouse.
The Philadelphia divorce attorneys at Schwartz, Fox, and Saltzman explain what it means for Pennsylvania to be a no-fault divorce state.
Pennsylvania is a No-Fault Divorce State
While the state still retains fault-based laws, Pennsylvania stands as a no-fault divorce state.
Specifically, 3301(b) to (d) specifies the grounds for a no-fault divorce. Despite Pennsylvania being a no-fault jurisdiction, no-fault divorces can become contested if the spouses cannot agree on property division.
How it Works
As a threshold matter, you must satisfy Pennsylvania’s residency requirement to file for a no-fault divorce. Specifically, 3104(b) requires you or your spouse to have been living in Pennsylvania for six months before filing for divorce. You must then decide which grounds you want to choose as the basis for your divorce proceedings.
What Does “No-Fault Divorce” Mean?
A no-fault divorce means one or both spouses want to end their marriage without being required to assign blame and prove fault grounds. While less costly and time-consuming than a fault divorce, a no-fault divorce can still evolve into a contested matter which requires litigation. Instead of litigating the issue of fault, spouses can proceed directly with the divorce process.
What Qualifies as a No-Fault Divorce in PA?
You can still pursue a no-fault divorce under Pennsylvania law even if your spouse wants to remain legally married. You can also elect a no-fault divorce if you and your spouse disagree on issues such as property division. Pursuant to 3301(c)(2), you can obtain a no-fault divorce based on if your spouse is convicted of physically abusing or assaulting you.
No-Fault Grounds for Divorce
Even if you elect to pursue a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania, you still have to satisfy the legal basis for obtaining a divorce. There are two types of no-fault divorce. Each ground features different factual and legal requirements.
Mutual Consent Divorce
A mutual consent divorce is arguably the most efficient way to obtain a divorce in Pennsylvania as it does not require a period of separation. Mutual consent means spouse agrees their marriage cannot be salvaged and want to obtain a divorce. If your spouse committed a crime of domestic violence against you, their consent is presumed.
To obtain a divorce on the basis of being irretrievably broken, you and your spouse must satisfy the waiting period by living “separately and apart” for one year and file an affidavit stating your marriage is beyond repair. If your spouse contests the divorce, the Court must hold a hearing to verify you and your spouse satisfied the one year waiting period and your marriage is irretrievably broken.
Filing for a No-Fault Divorce
The legal process of initiating a no-fault divorce action begins with preparing and filing a Complaint, Notice to Defend, and Claim Rights with the correct County Court. Under 3104(e), you can file in the County Court where your spouse resides or the County Court where you reside if your spouse lives outside Pennsylvania. You can also file in the County Court of the County in which you both lived during the marriage, but only if you presently live in the County.
Serve Your Spouse
After you file your divorce Complaint, you must serve your spouse. Service of process is the formal method by which you place your spouse on notice of your intent to obtain a divorce. You can serve your spouse by mailing them the divorce papers via certified mail, hiring a private process server, or paying for a Sheriff’s Deputy to serve your paperwork.
File Proof of Service
After you serve your spouse, you must file a proof of service to inform the Court your spouse has notice of the divorce case. Proof of service requires an affidavit of service to be prepared by the person who served the divorce papers on your spouse. The affidavit must state the date, time, and location where your spouse was served.
Consents of Affidavit or Separation
If you elect to pursue a mutual consent divorce, you and your spouse can file affidavits of consent 90 days after the day your divorce case was filed. The affidavits must state all allegations contained within the divorce complaint are true. Additionally, the affidavits must state each spouse consents to the divorce.
Final Decree of Divorce
A final decree of divorce is a judicial order terminating a marriage. Your divorce is not final until you obtain a final decree of divorce. Stated more clearly, you are not free to remarry until you obtain a final divorce decree.
The Divorce Decree
To obtain a divorce decree, you must satisfy the grounds for a no-fault divorce. You must also resolve issues pertaining to the equitable distribution of marital property and debts and potential alimony payments. If you and your spouse agree on all of these issues, it will make it easier to obtain a final divorce decree.
How Long It Takes to Get a No-Fault Divorce in PA
How long it takes to finalize a divorce in Pennsylvania varies depending on how litigious your proceedings become.
Theoretically, if you and your spouse seek a mutual consent divorce and are not contesting any property or child custody issues, you may be able to obtain a divorce within four to six months of filing. The amount of time to obtain a mutual consent divorce depends on several factors. However, if you and your spouse are unable to agree on one or more issues, it will likely take longer to obtain a divorce.
Cost of a No-Fault Divorce
The cost of a no-fault divorce depends on several factors. If you and your spouse elect to pursue an uncontested or collaborative divorce, the cost is lower as these avenues do not require discovery and litigation. If your divorce becomes contested, the cost of your divorce will increase because you will have to incur litigation-related expenses and additional attorneys fees.
Talk with an Experience Pennsylvania Divorce Attorney
While each divorce is different, the attorneys at Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman bring the same level of dedication and professionalism to each case. Our attorneys have been successfully litigating divorce matters in Pennsylvania since 1981. Contact us today to talk with an experienced divorce lawyer to see how we can help you!