What are the Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania law recognizes both "fault" and “no-fault” divorces. In a "fault" divorce, one spouse alleges that the other spouse is at fault for the divorce. The “innocent” spouse must show that the “guilty” spouse engaged in some type of misconduct, which led to the divorce.
There are a number of fault grounds available in Pennsylvania, including:
- abandonment for a period of at least one year
- extreme cruelty, such as physical or mental abuse, or other behavior which made married life intolerable
- bigamy, and
- a felony conviction.
A judge may consider bad behavior when deciding whether to award alimony. For example, if a spouse cheats and then requests alimony as part of a divorce, a judge may reduce or deny alimony because of the misconduct.
A “no-fault” divorce is based on one ground: the "irretrievable breakdown" of the marriage, which is just a fancy way of saying that the couple can't get along anymore. In addition, spouses must show a mutual consent to the divorce, or a two-year separation. Divorcing couples don’t have to explain what led to the breakup, and judges won’t consider misconduct when making decisions about alimony.
Why is the Date of Separation Important in Divorce?
The date of separation marks the beginning of the two-year time period that must pass before you can obtain a unilateral "no-fault" divorce without your spouse’s consent. It’s also a critical piece of information that helps determine the character of property (whether property belongs to the couple or separately to one of the spouses). Generally speaking, property acquired by either spouse after separation is not part of the marital estate.
Because of its importance to the division of property, the date of separation is often a serious point of contention between divorcing couples. If couples don’t agree on the date, a court will have to decide. Sometimes, it’s difficult to identify the exact date a couple “separated,” and Pennsylvania law doesn’t help much because it describes the date of separation as the “cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not.” What exactly does this mean? Basically, that spouses can be “separated” while sharing the same home. So, judges must consider all of the facts surrounding the separation when determining the exact date.
Depending on the facts, a judge might find that separation occurred even though a couple continued to live together, or that a couple living apart was still technically married. For example, one Pennsylvania court held that the date of separation did not occur when the husband and wife stopped living together, because they continued to see each other, enjoyed physical intimacy, vacationed together, and even held themselves out to be husband and wife.
Although the date of separation can be hard to pin down, the law does provide one clear rule; in no case will the date of separation be later than the date one spouse filed for divorce.
Is There a Residency Requirement for Divorce in Pennsylvania?
At least one spouse must reside in Pennsylvania for at least six months before filing for divorce.
How Long Does a Divorce Take?
A no-fault divorce (with mutual consent between spouses) takes approximately five months. There is a 90- day "cooling -off" period after the complaint is filed. Once the cooling-off period expires, both parties may file affidavits (written declarations) of consent, and then the judgment of divorce may be entered. At the other end of the spectrum, a contested divorce can take years to complete, with the average divorce proceeding lasting at least a year or more.