Pennsylvania Divorce Process
- Requirements before filing the petition
- Information about filing
- Information about serving
- Information about responding
- What happens next
The process can seem overwhelming if you are embarking on a divorce in Pennsylvania. Let’s distill it step-by-step so you have the guidance you need to make measured decisions along the way.
Divorce in Pennsylvania: Before filing the petition
Before you file for divorce, you will want to take a step back and look at your situation holistically. What are you hoping to accomplish? Are you in a mental space where you can make calm and pragmatic decisions for yourself that will be in your best interests long-term?
If emotions have gotten in the way of thinking clearly, you may want to consult with a therapist or divorce coach to weed through issues and determine what you need during this time. Then, take one step at a time. Don’t rush. This is your future. It deserves time and focused consideration.
The residency requirement in Pennsylvania is six months. This means that either you or your spouse must have lived in Pennsylvania for at least six months to file for divorce in the state.
In Pennsylvania, if you want a no-fault divorce without your spouse’s consent, you will need to be separated for a period of time first. If you separated after December 5, 2016, you must have been living separately and apart for one year. If you separated before December 5, 2016, you must have been separated for two years before filing.
Do you and your spouse have minor children? Some counties in Pennsylvania require you to take a parenting class before your divorce can be finalized. This class is meant to educate parents of young children on the ways that divorce can affect them and how they can help make the transition easier.
Electronic filing in Pennsylvania is available through many resources, including Hello Divorce. You must ensure, however, that the documents you use are up-to-date and court-approved.
You and your spouse can seek a no-fault divorce “by mutual consent” in Pennsylvania.
If you both agree that your marriage is irretrievably broken, each party can submit an Affidavit of Consent to the court asking for a divorce to be granted. You are then subject to a 90-day waiting period before your divorce can be finalized.
Filing your Pennsylvania divorce petition
Filing for a divorce in Pennsylvania requires many different forms and procedures. The requirements depend on what type of divorce you’re seeking and any other specific situations you’re addressing during your divorce process.
Generally, you will initiate your divorce by filing a Divorce Complaint and a Notice to Defend with your local county clerk and pay the required court fees. But requirements can vary from county to county, so it’s important to understand where you must file and what that county’s specific requirements are. More information can be found on Pennsylvania’s divorce website.
Fault vs. no-fault
How your divorce will progress depends on whether you’re seeking a divorce based on at-fault grounds or a no-fault divorce.
Fault-based grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania include the following:
- Abandonment of one year or over
- Extreme cruelty
- A felony conviction of one spouse resulting in a prison sentence of two or more years
No-fault grounds in Pennsylvania are more commonly used. This is where both spouses agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken without having to prove fault to the court.
Even in the case of no-fault divorce, you and your spouse will be subject to a 90-day waiting period between the time you file for divorce and its finalization. Note that the divorce process could still take longer, depending on extenuating factors such as the court schedule.
Serving your documents
Once you have filed the appropriate documents in the appropriate county, you must then serve your spouse with copies of the divorce paperwork. If your spouse lives in the state, this must be done within 30 days of filing your divorce paperwork.
In Pennsylvania, you may serve paperwork through regular first-class or certified mail, in person, or through the Sheriff’s office, another reliable adult, or a process server. Depending on the type of service, you will have an affidavit signed acknowledging this service.
If you don’t know where your spouse is, you will have to ask the court’s permission to serve them by alternate means. You will then be required to use whatever service options the judge agrees to.
The court will not act on your divorce until the appropriate paperwork has been filed, copies have been served upon the other spouse, and proof of that service has been filed with the court.
Spouse responds to petition (or fails to respond)
Once your spouse has been served with divorce papers, they have 20 days to respond.
Their response will indicate what parts of the settlement agreement they agree with and what parts they disagree with. They may respond with a counterclaim of their own.
You and your spouse might also sign an Affidavit of Consent saying you both consent to the divorce under the existing terms.
If your spouse doesn’t respond, you can request the court proceed with a default judgment.
What happens next
Divorce isn’t just about filing legal documents. It’s about uncoupling a complex life with many emotional, legal, and financial entanglements.
At some point, you and your spouse must agree on how you will divide your marital property, how you will share the custody and support of your children, whether one of you is entitled to temporary financial support, and other important matters.
Much of the divorce process will rely on you and your spouse coming to these important decisions, which will guide your post-divorce life. If you can’t do this through negotiation, the court will be forced to make these decisions for you.
Many financial issues are involved in a divorce, and financial disclosures made by both spouses must be truthful and accurate. You and your spouse must file a Financial Disclosure Form within 30 days of the respondent spouse’s answer to the divorce complaint.
Uncontested vs. contested divorce process
Uncontested and contested divorces differ dramatically in their procedures, the time involved in the process, and their cost.
- An uncontested divorce is when both spouses can make decisions for themselves without the intervention of the Pennsylvania court system. This can happen through their own cooperative efforts, through negotiation with the assistance of separate attorneys, or through mediation guidance.
- A contested divorce is when spouses can’t see eye-to-eye about important issues and must rely on the court to make decisions for them. At the end of the process, both will be bound by these decisions.
Divorce takes time. In the meantime, you are trying to negotiate terms, hammer out a settlement agreement, and begin to live your new life. Temporary hearings and orders establish ground rules, boundaries, rights, and responsibilities between you and your spouse during the divorce process until it becomes final.
A judge can enter temporary orders for any of the following:
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Child custody and parenting time
- Who can remain in the marital home until the divorce becomes final
- Disposition of the family vehicles
- Who is responsible for health insurance until the divorce becomes final
There are many things you and your spouse will need to address during the course of your divorce.
- You will need to decide how you will divide your marital property according to Pennsylvania’s equitable distribution rules.
- You will need to discuss whether spousal support may be warranted.
- If you have children, you will need to work out child-related issues such as support and custody.
The more you can communicate and cooperate with your spouse during the divorce process, the easier your negotiations will be. There are bound to be some sticking points; these can be worked through with mutual compromise or negotiated through your separate attorneys or with the help of a divorce mediator.
Final judgment vs. trial
When spouses can’t come to settlement terms through negotiation or mediation, the case may have to go to trial. During the trial, both spouses will present their sides, and witnesses will be called.
Whether through a trial or after negotiation, the final judgment will be issued by a judge to conclude the divorce. All parties will sign the judgment, and the divorce will be final.
FAQ about the Pennsylvania divorce process
Is mediation required for my Pennsylvania divorce?
Mediation itself is considered voluntary in Pennsylvania. However, the court may mandate that you and your spouse attend an informational meeting about the benefits of mediation.
Can I change my name in the divorce process?
You can request a name change during or after the divorce process by filling out the Notice of Intent to Resume Prior Surname through the Office of Prothonotary.
How much does it cost to get divorced in Pennsylvania?
Filing fees to begin the divorce process vary by county. If you can’t afford filing fees, you can request for them to be waived.
The cost of your divorce depends on whether you and your spouse can navigate the process cooperatively or not. The more you involve attorneys and the court system, the more it will cost.
Online divorce platforms like Hello Divorce exist to guide you through divorce more expeditiously and affordably. There are also collaborative divorce and mediation options available to guide couples toward making mutually beneficial decisions.
How much child support will I have to pay?
Pennsylvania has specific guidelines for determining child support based on the incomes of both parents and the children’s expenses. The PA Child Support Program offers an online child support estimator.
Will I have to pay alimony?
Alimony is temporary support paid by one spouse to the other when that spouse can’t meet their reasonable financial needs. The amount and duration of alimony payments will be based on a variety of considerations. If you feel you are entitled to alimony, you must request it during the divorce process.
How can I avoid a trial?
Taking a divorce to trial can result in overwhelming attorney and court costs and a lengthy divorce process. Fortunately, alternatives exist that allow couples to divorce without the time and cost of a trial.
Online divorce platforms like Hello Divorce, offering collaborative divorce solutions and mediation services, can give couples more control over the terms of their divorce and help them avoid costly attorney fees and court costs.
The more cooperatively a couple can work out the aspects of their divorce, the more control they will have over their divorce settlement.
At Hello Divorce, we understand that divorce dredges up many negative emotions: fear, anger, uncertainty, and apprehension. Let us show you that it also can inspire hope. By talking to one of our caring account coordinators during a free 15-minute call, you can learn about affordable divorce plans and other optional services that can simplify your divorce process and make the journey easier.
Petition to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.