When a married couple decides to divorce, it can be a difficult and emotionally draining decision. However, in Pennsylvania, the legal process of divorce does not have to be nearly as difficult. Fortunately there is a process available for a “mutual consent divorce” when both spouses are willing to consent to the divorce and agree on all of their divorce-related issues. This type of divorce makes the legal process much easier and shorter.
In Pennsylvania, an uncontested divorce may be called a “no-fault divorce” or a “mutual consent divorce.” Sometimes it is also called a “c divorce” because of the section of the law that allows this simpler type of divorce.
A mutual consent divorce is a faster divorce process - you can get divorced in three to four months, rather than the standard two or more years. However, to get this type of divorce, both spouses must agree to the divorce and sign papers stating that each is in agreement.
If at any point you or your spouse no longer agree to the divorce, a divorce will have to be sought under the two-year separation rule.
You must meet the following requirements to file a mutual consent divorce in Pennsylvania:
Ninety days after the divorce papers are filed, each spouse will file an affidavit (written declaration) stating that each consents to the divorce. After the court receives these affidavits, along with other documents, the court will then grant a divorce. No formal hearing is required.
You may file a mutual consent divorce whether you and your spouse have children together or not. You may work out your child custody and child support issues before filing, or you may file separately to resolve those at a later time. However, you must have all financial issues resolved before filing for divorce. You can not bring property distribution or alimony claims to court after the divorce. If you wait until after the divorce, you will have lost the right to make any financial claims.
You may choose to handle a mutual consent divorce without the help of a lawyer. If you go forward on your own, you must be sure to carefully follow the filing instructions.
The following instructions assume that you and your spouse agree on the divorce and that are both of you are willing to sign all required documents. If you have any questions about your specific case and your rights, you should consult with a family law attorney in your area.
To start the divorce process, several forms must be filled out and filed with the Clerk of Court’s office. This office may sometimes be called the “Prothonotary.” One spouse, called the “plaintiff,” files the divorce complaint with the court, and the other spouse is called the “defendant.” You may be able to find samples of the forms through your county clerk of court website. For additional information, see Pennsylvania Legal Aid - Marriage, Divorce & Separation information and forms, Dauphin County Self Help Center, Lehigh County Clerk of Court - Mutual Consent Divorce forms and Philadelphia Self Help No-Fault Divorce Manual.
To obtain a divorce in Pennsylvania, one spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least six months before the filing. You may file in the county where either spouse lives, or where both spouses agree to file.
Once you complete your papers, you will take them, along with at least two sets of copies, to the clerk’s office. The office will keep one set, you will receive one stamped set back, and one stamped set must be served on your spouse.
You must also pay filing fees when you file your divorce papers. If your income is below a certain level, you may be able to file with no charge. If you think you may qualify for this, you must file a form called an In Forma Pauperispetition. You may get this form from the clerk’s office.
If you and your spouse have children together, you may have additional requirements, such as a parenting class. This requirement will vary from county to county. The clerk of court in the county where you file can tell you if you need to complete a divorcing parent class or other process.
Serving papers on your spouse means delivering your divorce papers according to special legal rules. If your spouse will sign the Acceptance of Service form, you may mail a copy of the papers to him or her by regular mail. You have 30 days from the date of filing the papers to serve your spouse the copies. After you receive the signed Acceptance of Service back from your spouse, you must file a copy of it with the clerk, along with a Verification form.
Ninety days after the date you filed the divorce papers, you may sign the Affidavit of Consent. You will sign one, and you will mail one to your spouse for him or her to sign. You will also mail a Waiver of Notice to your spouse. Your spouse will sign both and mail them back to you. You will take both copies to the clerk of court and file copies there.
Next, you will need to file a Praecipe to Transmit Record and a Final Decree of Divorce. These forms are also available on many Pennsylvania self-help websites. There is a fee to file the praecipe, unless your fees were waived due to income.
Once all the documents are correctly filed, your case will be given to a judge for review. After the judge signs the Final Decree of Divorce, the clerk’s office will send you and your spouse certified copies and you will be officially divorced.
23 Pa. C.S.A. Sec. 3301