Everything You Need to Know before Getting Divorced in Pennsylvania

Getting a divorce can be a highly emotional and legally complex process. Here's everything you need to know so you can feel better about moving forward with your divorce (and post-divorce life) in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania divorce prerequisites

In Pennsylvania, divorcing parties are called the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff is the spouse who filed for divorce. The defendant is the spouse against whom the divorce was filed.

Divorcing couples in Pennsylvania must meet several prerequisites before they can file.

Do you meet the residency requirement?

If you want to file for divorce in Pennsylvania, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months. The paperwork can be filed by either spouse.

Do you have a reason for divorce (grounds or fault)?

Pennsylvania allows both fault-based and no-fault divorces. 

In a no-fault divorce, both spouses agree the marriage is irretrievably broken and agree to part ways. 

Even if one spouse doesn’t consent to the divorce, an uncontested divorce can still be granted if the following two things are true:

  • The couple has been living separate and apart for at least one year. A couple can be considered to be living separate and apart even though they still live in the same home if they are living separate lives and have very little to do with each other.
  •  It has been proven that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

A fault-based divorce can be filed under certain conditions. If one spouse doesn’t agree to the divorce, or the couple has not been separated for a year, or the plaintiff spouse doesn’t want to wait a year, they can use one of these fault-based grounds:

  • Adultery
  • Bigamy
  • Cruelty that has endangered the life or health of the filing spouse
  • Desertion without cause for one year
  • Criminal conviction with a sentence of at least two years in prison
  • Indignities that have made life “intolerable and burdensome”

It’s important to understand that fault-based grounds must be proven for them to be considered by the court in a divorce proceeding.

Pennsylvania divorce forms and fees

Generally, a divorce case is initiated by filing a Divorce Complaint and a Notice to Defend with your local county court. You can find these forms on Pennsylvania’s divorce website here.

When you file this initial divorce paperwork, you will be required to pay court filing fees. These amounts vary by county. In most cases, they run between $200 and $400. If you can’t afford to pay these fees, you can request to waive these fees by filing a Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

Can financial disclosures be waived?

Pennsylvania law does not require spouses to make complete financial disclosures of their income, assets, debts, and expenses. However, if spousal or child support is requested as part of the divorce, spouses are required to complete them.

Financial disclosures are important for many reasons. They establish a baseline financial position for each person and allow a court to make fair and equitable decisions regarding property division, spousal maintenance, and child support. Without accurate financial disclosures, one party may hide assets or income, which could lead to an unfair outcome in the marital settlement agreement.

Are you required to take a parenting class?

In general, a parenting class is not required as part of the divorce process. That said, in some unique situations, the court may require parents to attend a parenting class to ensure the well-being of their children and that the parents understand their new roles as divorce co-parents. 

What are the basic divorce steps in Pennsylvania?

While divorce procedure varies by county and divorce type, there are some basic steps you can expect when navigating a divorce in Pennsylvania:

  1.  Confirm that you or your spouse meet the residency requirements to begin the process.
  2.  Spouses must do one of the following: Claim no-fault grounds (the marriage is broken irretrievably) or allege an at-fault ground for divorce to the court. 
  3.  The plaintiff spouse must file the appropriate initial divorce paperwork, pay the filing fee, and serve their spouse with a copy within 30 days if the spouse is in PA or 90 days your spouse resides outside PA. The type of service varies depending on if the divorce if no-fault or at-fault.
  4.  The couple must go through a 90-day waiting period. This period starts when the one spouse serves divorce papers on the other. 
  5.  After they are served, the defendant spouse has 30 days to file a response.  
    1.  With a no-fault divorce, they have the option of simply signing the initial paperwork. 
    2.  The defendant also has the option to file a notice of intention/response. This must be done within 30 days of being served.
  6.  Spouses exchange financial disclosures and go through the financial discovery process.
  7.  The next step is to check with the County Court to determine if other documents are required. You can do this by calling the court or looking at their website.
    1.  If you have kids, also check to see if your county requires a parenting class.
  8.  Complete your Divorce Decree/Final Agreement: 
    1.  This is when you can negotiate and create a Marital Settlement Agreement either mutually or with the help of their attorneys or a divorce mediator. The agreement outlines the terms of your property division, child custody, child support, or spousal maintenance.
    2.  If you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement, the court can decide the terms of divorce for you. When such a disagreement occurs, people usually seek full legal representation.
  9.  Sign and file your Divorce Decree with the court.
    1.  A judge will review your divorce decree after you submit it. They may reach out to you with additional questions.

Could you use a compassionate expert in your corner during this difficult time? Read our article, Divorce Coach: Providing Support through Divorce.

Property division overview

Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. This means that marital property upon divorce is not divided 50/50. Rather, it’s divided “equitably,” in a way that is fair.

If you cannot agree with your spouse on this, the court may have to get involved. But before this happens, you may want to consider divorce mediation. It can be cheaper than litigation, and its purpose is to help both spouses attain a marital settlement agreement that satisfies them. However, it's notable that mediation requires give-and-take and a willingness to compromise.

Marital property is any asset or debt the spouses earn or acquire from the date of marriage to the date of separation, aside from gifts or inheritances. Property owned before marriage is generally considered separate property and not subject to division during the divorce process. 

It’s important to note that the marital property approach recognizes that one spouse may be entitled to more or less than 50% of the total assets to be split.

When dividing marital property, the court considers factors like (but not limited to):

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The lifestyle/standard of living established while the couple was together
  • The value of household management, including childcare
  • The income level of the parties, as well as their future earning potential
  • The age and health of the parties

Child custody overview

Child custody involves both the physical custody of the children (where they will live) and the legal custody of the children (who will make the big decisions regarding their education, medical care, and religious upbringing.) 

In PA, the parental custody of a child is determined based on the best interests of the child. The courts consider several factors when making decisions about child custody and visitation arrangements: . 

  • The proximity of parents to each other
  • Who is more likely to maintain a positive relationship with the child
  • Who is best able to provide childcare or childcare arrangements
  • Whether there has been past child abuse or neglect
  • Whether there has been a history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Sibling relationships
  • The availability of other extended family members
  • The duties each parent has performed on the child’s behalf
  • Who provides more stability for the child
  • The condition of each parent’s household
  • The child’s preference based on their maturity level and ability to make decisions

What to know about spousal support 

Spousal support, also called alimony, is money paid by one spouse to the other. It may be paid during the divorce process or for a period of time after the divorce becomes final. The purpose of this money is to level the financial playing field between former spouses, particularly when one has been dependent on the other for some time.

Types of spousal support in Pennsylvania include: 

  • Pendente lite alimony is a type of payment made by one spouse to the other during the divorce process.
  • Post-divorce alimony is paid when one spouse cannot immediately support themselves after the divorce. The court looks at multiple factors to determine the amount and duration.
  • Spousal support can be awarded to one spouse when a couple has separated but not yet filed for divorce. 
  • Equitable reimbursement is compensation ordered by the court when one spouse has supported the household for a period of time while the other pursued an education or other training during the marriage. 

Child support in Pennsylvania

Child support is money paid from one parent to the other to help cover the cost of raising a child. Child support is meant to provide for the basic needs of the child. This includes housing, food, clothing, medical care, and education.

Child support calculations are primarily based on the incomes of the parents, the needs of the children, the amount of time each parent has the children, and the custody arrangement.

Child support is awarded based on PA's state guidelines that consider the number of children to be supported and the income of both parents. You can see a sample calculation using this free child support estimator here

While state guidelines provide a basic structure for support, if your divorce becomes contested and the court has to determine child support, the court may deviate from these guidelines based on other factors such as the following:

  • Any unusual needs or fixed obligations
  • Any other support obligations
  • Any other household income
  • The ages of the children
  • Assets and liabilities of the parents
  • Any medical expenses not covered by insurance
  • Standard of living
  • Any other factors that might be in the child’s best interest

Parents typically pay child support until the child reaches 18, but exceptions occur, such as a child’s disability or if the child is continuing their education past the age of 18. To learn more, please check out the PA Child Support Handbook here.

FAQ about Pennsylvania divorce

How long does divorce take?

After filing the petition, the divorce process in Pennsylvania will take a minimum of 90 days. If the divorce is no-fault vs. at-fault, or uncontested vs. contested, and how quickly you and your spouse can come to your agreements will impact how long the divorce process takes. 

Can I e-file my divorce papers in Pennsylvania?

Most courts in the state of Pennsylvania allow you to e-file your divorce papers, but this may vary by county. You can learn more about the procedure here.


Basic Child Support Schedule. Pennsylvania Code.
Divorce Proceedings. The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Child Support Handbook. PA Child Support Program.
Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.
Co-Founder & President
Divorce Preparation, Divorce Process, Divorce Guidelines, Legal Insights

Heather is Hello Divorce's co-founder, President and Chief Content Officer, and our resident expert on divorce rules, procedures and guidelines across the states. Heather uses her content background, deep legal knowledge, and coding skills to author most of our state-specific divorce software. Heather joined Hello Divorce two months into a planned year-long vacation from the start-up world because she was convinced that the legal world is one of the only things left that truly needed disruption. Since her expertise (obsession) is making complex, frustrating processes easier – and even enjoyable – for consumers, Heather leads the product, customer service, marketing, and content teams at Hello Divorce.

Heather has a Master's in Journalism from Northwestern University and a BA from the University of Notre Dame. Heather lives in California with her husband, two kids, and too many pets. You can often find her answering Hello Divorce's free info calls on weekends, and in her free time, she dabbles in ukulele, piano, and electric bass.