Pennsylvania Divorce Laws

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 Does It Make a Difference Who Files First?

In a divorce case and under Pennsylvania divorce laws, the spouse who files the complaint for divorce is called the plaintiff and the other spouse the defendant. These titles were used in days where fault had to be shown during a trial.

Many courts now use a no fault divorce system. They will grant divorces even though the parties did nothing wrong, for example:

  • Committing adultery;
  • Abusing an innocent spouse;
  • Willfully abandoning a spouse; or
  • Other actions.

Divorce cases in Pennsylvania may still be filed based on these issues, but it is not required. Some spouses who are considering divorce erroneously believe that the plaintiff will have the advantage in court.

They may have heard that the plaintiff gets to present their case first in court. If both of the spouses reside in the State of Pennsylvania, in general, it does not matter who files first.

The fair principles that are used by the court to determine the outcome of the case are not weighed in favor of one party or the other. Additionally, simply because the spouses reside in different counties of the state does not mean that they can have their case heard in their county of residence.

In order to encourage fairness, the case will, in general, 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 the plaintiff’s county of residence upon agreement of the defendant.

If, however, the spouses reside in different states, it may be advantageous to file the case first in a specific state to take advantage of any favorable laws. Pennsylvania divorce requirements provide that the spouse filing in the state must have been a resident for 6 months.

It may be advantageous for a spouse to file for divorce in the State of Pennsylvania based on its fair and consistent approach to spousal support and child support. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court provided its Uniform Support Guidelines in 1989 to grant a similar award to spouses who are similarly situated.

Additionally, these guidelines streamline the calculation of familial support, making the courts more effective and efficient. It may be helpful for an individual to consult with a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer to determine the correct course of action for them.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania?

When a spouse is filing for divorce in Pennsylvania, there are four categories of grounds, including:

  • Fault;
  • Institutionalization;
  • Mutual consent; and
  • Irretrievable breakdown.

If a spouse wishes to obtain a fault-based divorce, they will be required to show that they are an innocent party as it relates to the situation and one of the following applies to the other spouse because they have engaged in one or more of the following:

  • Been convicted of a criminal offense and have received a sentence of at least 2 years;
  • Committed bigamy;
  • Endangered their spouse’s life or health through cruel and barbaric treatment;
  • Committed adultery;
  • Rendered such indignities against their spouse so as to make your life miserable; or
  • Committed willful and malicious desertion of their spouse for at least 1 year.

A spouse may also be able to obtain a divorce if their spouse has been committed to a mental institution for at least 18 months and it does not appear they will be released within the following 18 months. If an individual wishes to obtain a divorce from their spouse and they do not want that divorce to be based on something they did or something that happened to them, they can still obtain a divorce.

Their divorce can be based upon the mutual consent of the spouses or on the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage following living separately for at least one year. Depending upon the reason that the individual is seeking a divorce, a court may require the spouses to attend up to 3 counseling sessions within a 90 day period following their filing for divorce.

It is important to note that, while a spouse can begin an informal separation from their spouse as soon as they move to Pennsylvania, they cannot file for divorce in the state until the individual or their spouse has resided in Pennsylvania for at least 6 months.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, a divorce may take anywhere from 90 days to a year or more depending on:

  • Whether it was filed as uncontested or contested;
  • Whether it was filed on fault-based grounds;
  • Numerous other factors.

An uncontested divorce means that both of the parties agree to the divorce. A contested divorce means that the parties do not agree on all of the issues in the case.

How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Pennsylvania?

The cost of hiring divorce lawyers in Pennsylvania may vary based on numerous factors. The cheapest way to obtain a divorce in Pennsylvania is to file an uncontested divorce without hiring an attorney.

There will be a filing fee of approximately $300, which is subject to change. There may be additional costs between $150 and $1,500 if they have the support of an online service.

Although it may seem tempting to try and save money, it is best to have an attorney’s representation during a divorce case. Issues may arise and the actions of the other party may change, leading to a change in circumstances for the case.

A divorce proceeding can seem costly, no matter how simple it is. Costs may include:

  • Filing fees;
  • Court costs; and
  • Costs associated with hiring any needed outside experts, for example, a child custody evaluator.

There are then the costs associated with hiring an attorney to handle the case. Having an attorney, however, can provide the parties with knowledge regarding what to expect and make the process as stress–free as it can be.

The overall cost of hiring a divorce attorney can vary, as each attorney sets their own fees. In Pennsylvania, as of 2022, on average, an individual can expect to pay between $250 and $350 per hour for a divorce attorney.

The client is paying their divorce attorney to perform several tasks as well as a case that may take, on average, between three and eleven months.

Some examples of the issues a divorce attorney will address include:

  • The division of debts and assets;
  • Outlining the terms for child support and child custody, if necessary; and
  • Conducting research to gather supporting evidence.

This is not an exhaustive list of what is covered by an attorney’s fees. The majority of divorce attorneys will charge either a flat fee or an hourly rate, depending on the circumstances of the case.

A flat fee, on average, ranges between $900 and $6,000, depending on the nature and complexity of the case.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Typically, obtaining a divorce in Pennsylvania requires the assistance of a qualified Pennsylvania divorce lawyer. If you are considering filing for divorce or have already filed a divorce complaint, it is in your best interests to consult with an attorney.

Your attorney can oversee your case in detail to ensure that all of the necessary paperwork is properly completed and filed. Your lawyer will also represent you during any court appearances and hearings, which can alleviate a lot of stress.

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