Contested Divorce in Pennsylvania
By the time a couple decides to divorce, there may be many ways they don’t see eye to eye. One spouse may want to try to save the marriage while the other is ready to walk away. There may have been infidelity, financial dishonesty, or even abuse.
Even if both partners agree that divorce is the right decision, they might disagree on their division of assets, who will get the house, or who will have primary custody of the kids. If divorcing spouses can’t cooperate or compromise on such issues, a contested divorce will be necessary, and a judge will make these decisions for them according to Pennsylvania divorce law.
The Pennsylvania divorce process
In Pennsylvania, you can agree to a mutual consent divorce, a no-fault divorce without consent after you have been separated for a year, or a fault-based divorce based on one of six grounds. You can also pursue a contested or uncontested divorce.
Once you’ve determined the type of divorce you’re seeking and have satisfied residency requirements, you will begin the process.
Step 1: File for divorce
The first step in any divorce occurs when one spouse completes and files the required paperwork in the appropriate county. The required forms can be found on The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania’s website. At this time, you will cite your reason, or “grounds” for seeking the divorce. Your ground may be fault-based, or you may claim the no-fault ground of irreconcilable differences.
The filing spouse will also have to pay filing fees, although these may be waived.
Step 2: Serve your spouse
If you are the filing spouse (plaintiff), you must notify the other spouse (defendant) of your intentions within 30 days of filing. This is also known as “serving” them.
Pennsylvania allows you to serve divorce papers on your spouse in person, by mail, or through a responsible third party not related to you, such as a sheriff or a process server. If you can’t locate your spouse, you can request the court’s permission to use an alternative method, such as publishing a notice in a newspaper or other publication.
Once your spouse has been served, you must file proof of service with the court in the form of a Certificate of Service or an Affidavit of Service. Your spouse then has 20 days to respond to your complaint. If their response is uncooperative, you will most likely be looking at a contested divorce.
Step 3: Share important information
Financial disclosures are part of the information-gathering phase of your divorce proceedings.
You and your spouse must share in-depth information with each other, including financial disclosures and answering questions called interrogatories. Neither spouse can refuse to comply, and you must supply this information to the best of your ability and as honestly as possible. Dishonesty could result in serious consequences.
Step 4: File temporary orders
Divorce takes time, but you must still take care of yourself and your children, pay bills, and address all your other responsibilities until your divorce becomes final.
Temporary orders are court-ordered ground rules by which you and your spouse must abide until your divorce is finalized. Temporary orders can provide for temporary child support, child custody, spousal support, who has the right to remain in the marital home, and restraining orders in the case of domestic violence.
Step 5: Negotiate an agreement
At any time during the divorce process, you and your spouse may decide to try to negotiate the terms of the divorce yourselves. If you can craft your own divorce settlement, you won’t have to rely on the court to do so.
If you are a couple looking at contested divorce, you likely have some serious disagreements that stand in the way of a more straightforward divorce. Instead of going to court, however, you might decide to get the help of a professional divorce mediator. A mediator does not legally represent either of you; rather, they are trained to guide you toward a cooperative resolution.
If you are successful in coming to agreements through mediation, you may even decide to shift your divorce from a contested to an uncontested divorce.
Step 6: Go to court
At the date and time of your divorce hearing, you and your spouse, with the help of your attorneys, will each present your side of the case to the judge. The judge will then make decisions regarding the terms of your divorce based on the testimony presented to them.
Step 7: File the final paperwork
The judge's decisions will become part of your divorce judgment. This document will be signed by you and your ex and filed in the appropriate county. You both will then be legally bound by its terms.
Will you need to go through divorce discovery?
If you and your spouse are navigating a contested divorce in Pennsylvania, discovery will be initiated by your attorney early in the divorce process. This fact-finding mission allows both sides to share and review information so both sides can understand the full picture and make important decisions. Discovery is not required in an uncontested divorce.
How long does a contested divorce take in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania has a mandatory waiting period of 90 days between filing and finalizing your divorce. But when you are pursuing a contested divorce, many other things can take a divorce much longer to finalize. Discovery, back-and-forth negotiations, court dates, depositions – these all take valuable time and can stretch the divorce process out for months or even years.
The more you and your spouse can agree to matters concerning your divorce, the sooner it can be resolved.
How much does a contested divorce cost?
Filing fees in Pennsylvania vary by county but are generally between $300 and $400.
But your costs will increase exponentially once you become embroiled in a contested divorce. You will be subject to attorney fees and court costs, and the longer it takes to resolve your issues, the more expensive your divorce becomes.
Can I switch from a contested to an uncontested divorce?
Yes. At any point during the divorce process, you can negotiate a settlement agreement before your divorce goes to trial, switching from a contested to an uncontested divorce.
At Hello Divorce, we have professional certified mediators who have been trained to help you. If both you and your spouse are willing to try mediation, consider working with us. To speak with an account coordinator and ask more specific questions, schedule a free call.