Grounds for Divorce
Pennsylvania recognizes both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce. Fault grounds include willful desertion, adultery, cruelty, and bigamy. Couples may also file for divorce based on a no-fault ground: the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
In Pennsylvania, a couple may also mutually consent to a divorce by stating that the marriage was irretrievably broken. Each party must submit a sworn statement consenting to the divorce. If there is no mutual consent, then the parties must submit sworn statements that they have lived separate and apart for at least two years. If either of the spouses deny any of the allegations in the divorce papers, and the court determines that there's a reasonable expectation of reconciliation, then the judge may continue the matter for up to four months so that the couple can seek counseling.
(For more information, see Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania.)
Residency Requirement and Waiting Period
To file for divorce in Pennsylvania, one spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least six months immediately before the filing. The divorce can be filed in the county in which either party lives.
There’s a waiting period before the divorce can be finished: a couple filing for divorce under mutual consent must wait at least 90 days from filing before the court will enter a divorce judgment.
Upon divorce, courts in Pennsylvania will equitably divide the marital assets between two spouses. A judge will decide what is fair and just by evaluating several factors, including the length of the marriage, prior marriages of either party, each party’s needs and resources, each party’s contribution to the marriage, and the standard of living established during the marriage. Any property that was acquired during the marriage will be presumed to be marital property regardless of how title was held.
Even if one of the spouses cites a fault ground as a reason for the divorce, it will not impact how the property is distributed.
(To learn more, see How Property is Divided in a Pennsylvania Divorce.)
Either spouse may request an alimony award from the other spouse. To decide whether to award alimony, the court looks at each party’s earning capacities, income, assets and liabilities, and the parties’ physical, emotional, and mental conditions. For example, if the parties are relatively equal in earning capacity, needs, and resources, it is unlikely that the court will grant alimony. However, if one party was the homemaker and contributed to the household by supporting the other spouse’s education or training, the court is more likely to grant a request for alimony.
(Find out the detail about spousal support laws in, Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Pennsylvania.)
The Pennsylvania child support guidelines balance the ability of the parent to support the child with the child’s reasonable needs. The guidelines use the supporting parent’s net income but allow for certain exceptions in the case of unusual needs or extraordinary expenses. In each court proceeding for child support, the judge will also order that one of the parents must provide health insurance for the child. Information about child support payment guidelines can be found at the for Pennsylvania Child Support Program website.
The court will use the best interests of the child standard when determining custody. This means that the court will consider the following factors: which parent would be more likely to encourage continuing contact between the child and the other parent; whether there has been family abuse or a history of drug or alcohol abuse by either parent; which parent would provide a more loving and stable environment; and any other factors the court considers important.
(See Pennsylvania Child Custody and the Child Best Interests for details on how courts make these important decisions.)
If the parents don’t agree on custody, the court may require each parent to submit a parenting plan laying out that parent’s proposal for care and custody of the child. The parenting plan would include a schedule of parenting time, child care and transportation arrangements, and any other important decisions involving the child. The judge would base the custody decision on the competing parenting plans.
In Pennsylvania, there are special rules regarding a parent relocating with the child. Generally, in order for one parent to move with the child, the other parent must consent to the move or the court must approve of the move. If the other parent does not consent to the move, then a hearing will take place to establish whether the relocation or a modification of the custody agreement is appropriate. At the hearing, the parent who wishes to move with the child has the burden to show the court that the move would be in the best interests of the child. The court would consider how the relocation will impact the child and the child’s relationship with the other parent and how the parents expect to preserve that relationship. The child’s preference would also be taken into account.