Separation and divorce are quite different in Pennsylvania, primarily because there is no legal separation under Pennsylvania law. Rather, you can only be informally separated from your spouse by living apart from them, which is an essential step in obtaining a divorce via one of the categories of grounds for divorce. There are four categories of grounds for divorce: fault, institutionalization, mutual consent, and irretrievable breakdown. If you want a fault-based divorce, you have to show that you are innocent in the situation while the other party has committed one of the following:

  • Been convicted of a crime for which they have received a sentence of at least 2 years
  • Bigamy
  • Endangering your life or health through cruel and barbaric treatment
  • Adultery
  • Rendered such indignities against you so as to make your life miserable
  • Malicious and willful desertion for at least a year

You can also obtain a divorce from your spouse if they have been committed to a mental institution for at least 18 months and it does not appear that they will be released in the next 18 months. If you wish to get divorced from your spouse and do not wish for the divorce to be based on something they did or something that happened to them, then you can get divorced based on the mutual consent between yourself and your spouse or the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage following at least a year of you and your spouse living apart. Based on why you are seeking a divorce, the court might require you and your spouse to attend up to 3 counseling sessions within a 90-day period following your filing for divorce.  Also, bear in mind that while you can engage in an informal separation from your spouse as soon as you move to Pennsylvania, you cannot file for divorce in the state until you or your spouse has lived there for at least six months.

What Paperwork Do I Need to File for Divorce?

In order to start the process of obtaining a divorce in Pennsylvania, you will need to file a Complaint, a Notice to Defend and Claim Rights, and a Verification authenticating that everything you stated in your complaint. While the Pennsylvania courts have standard forms for both the Notice to Defend and Claim Rights and the Verification, you may need to come up with your own complaint from scratch. However, if you are seeking to file a divorce based on either mutual consent or an irretrievable breakdown of your marriage, then you can use a standard form for your complaint instead of writing your own. After you file this paperwork with the court, then you must serve a copy to your spouse and notify them of your intent to get a divorce, if you have not done so already. While you usually do not need to let your spouse that you want a divorce until you serve them, you do need to inform your spouse prior to filing your complaint if you are basing your divorce on mutual consent because you will need their consent to get the divorce.

Community Property vs. Separate Property

If you are getting divorced in Pennsylvania, then any marital property that you have with your spouse will be split between you and your spouse. Marital property is property that you and/or your spouse acquired during the marriage that is not otherwise categorized as separate property.  Unlike marital property, separate property is not subject to division between spouses. This category of property consists of:

  • Anything you acquired before getting married
  • Property that you and your spouse agree to keep separate in a written agreement
  • Any gifts and/or inheritance that you have received, except for any gifts that you received from your spouse
  • Veterans’ benefits, not including any veterans’ compensation received in lieu of military retirement pay

Instead of basing the division of marital property in divorce on the concept of community property, Pennsylvania uses equitable distribution to divide up marital property between two spouses during a divorce. This means that the court will disperse the property between you and your spouse in a manner that is fair, rather than equal, by considering a number of factors. Some of the factors a court will look at when dividing up property are how long the marriage lasted, the age and health of each spouse, whether one spouse has significantly contributed to the other spouse’s education or increased earning power, each spouse’s education and income, the value of any separate property owned by each spouse, and who will have custody of the children.

What Should I Do If There Are Children Involved?

If there are children in the marriage, then child custody and support should be sorted out, at least on a temporary basis, prior to the divorce becoming final. Hiring a lawyer to handle the matters of support and custody for your child after the divorce can be costly. The amount you may need to pay out for a lawyer to handle just these two matters post-divorce can range from $3,000 all the way up to $40,000.

While you can make your wishes known to the court with regard to the custody of your child, it is ultimately up to the court to determine what custody arrangement is best for the child. In order to determine what custody arrangement is the best for the child, the court will look at a lot of different factors such as the preference of the child, whether a parent is likely to turn the child against the other parent or encourage the child to have a positive relationship with them, which parent is more likely to maintain a loving and stable relationship with the child, the presence of siblings and/or extended family, and the mental and physical health of each parent and of any other people living with them. Once custody for a child has been sorted out, then the next main consideration is child support. Generally, the parent who spends less time taking care of the child is required to pay an amount of child support that is based on their portion of the overall financial obligation owed to the child.

Do I Need to Pay Alimony?

A spouse will only be granted alimony in Pennsylvania if the court determines that alimony is necessary. In the event that alimony is necessary, the court will consider a variety of factors to figure out how much alimony would be appropriate and the length of time over which the alimony should be paid. Some of the factors that the court will take into consideration are the length of the marriage, whether one of the spouses would be incapable of being fully self-supporting even if they were appropriately employed, the standard of living during the marriage, the age and physical health of each spouse, whether there was any marital misconduct such as abuse, and the sources of income for each spouse. If your spouse is already living with someone new when they request alimony, they will be prohibited from being awarded alimony because of their cohabitation. Alimony will be terminated if either spouse dies or if the receiving spouse marries again.

Where Can I Find the Right Divorce Lawyer?

When going through a divorce, it may be useful to have legal representation, as the experience can be confusing. Ergo, it is in your best interest to discuss your situation with a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer because they can help you figure out issues such as alimony and property division.