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Pennsylvania Divorce

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Does It Make a Difference Who Files First?

In Pennsylvania, the spouse who files a complaint for divorce is called the “plaintiff,” and the other spouse the “defendant.”  This language is a throwback to the days where fault was shown in a full-blown trial.  To simplify matters, many courts nowadays use a “no-fault” system, granting divorces even though parties did not do anything wrong, such as commit adultery, abuse an innocent spouse, willfully abandon, etc.  Of course, a Pennsylvania divorce suit still can be brought on these grounds. 

Some Pennsylvania spouses considering divorce erroneously suspect that the plaintiff may have the advantage in court.  They may have heard that the plaintiff gets to speak first in court.  However, if both spouses reside in the state of Pennsylvania, it does not generally make a difference who files first.  The fair principles employed by a judge to decide the outcome are not weighted in favor of one party or the other. 

In addition, just because spouses live in different counties of Pennsylvania does not mean that they can have their case heard in their county of residence.  To encourage fairness, the case generally will be heard at the Court of Common Pleas of the defendant’s county, or in the county of matrimonial residence.  However, the case can be heard in plaintiff’s county with the agreement of the defendant. 

That said, if spouses live in different states, it may be an advantage to file the case first in a certain state to take advantage of favorable laws.  However, to file in Pennsylvania, a spouse must have been a resident of the state for 6 months. 

A spouse may be encouraged to file for divorce in Pennsylvania because of, for example, its fair and consistent approach to spousal and child support.  In 1989, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court promulgated its Uniform Support Guidelines to grant a similar award to spouses similarly situated.  In addition, the guidelines streamline the calculation of familial support and make the courts more efficient and effective. 

You may want to consult with a local Pennsylvania family law attorney to determine the correct course of action for you.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 04-26-2018 09:08 PM PDT

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