The process of getting a divorce case started can be tricky, especially for those with no experience in the court system. This article covers the basics of divorce in Pennsylvania.
A “complaint” is the document that begins the divorce process. The spouse who starts the divorce by completing the complaint is the “plaintiff.” The other spouse is the “defendant.”
As long as one spouse has resided in Pennsylvania for at least six months before the divorce is started, a Pennsylvania court will grant the divorce.
There are three types of divorce in Pennsylvania:
You must pay a court fee to file (submit) the divorce complaint with the court. If you cannot afford the fee, you may complete a Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, which asks to waive the fees.
If both spouses agree that their marriage cannot be saved, they can proceed with a divorce by mutual consent. After the complaint is filed, the couple must wait 90 days to finalize the divorce. Each spouse writes a statement that says the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” or cannot be saved. This process is also called a no-fault divorce.
What if one spouse wants the divorce, but the other doesn’t? In that case the spouse who wants to divorce (the plaintiff) can proceed without the other person’s consent as long as the couple has lived apart for at least two years prior to the filing of divorce complaint. Just as in the mutual consent divorce, the plaintiff spouse states that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the couple cannot reconcile.
The third way is for the plaintiff spouse to state in the complaint that the other spouse (the defendant) has caused the marriage to fail. Pennsylvania law recognizes certain marital problems, or “grounds” justify a divorce. Some of the more common grounds are adultery, desertion for more than one year, indignities, (the defendant has treated the plaintiff very badly) and cruel treatment. Using grounds requires the expertise of a Pennsylvania family law attorney.
The Court of Common Pleas for each county handles family law cases. The divorce can be filed in the county where the plaintiff or the defendant resides.
If you receive a complaint for divorce, you should consider asking the judge for orders for child custody, child support, alimony, an award of the marital property and attorney’s fees.
Pennsylvania Legal Services website has a number of brochures, videos, and sample forms to guide the self represented person through the divorce process. The website can be found at www.PALawHELP.org.
While there are no statewide forms available, some individual counties have samples through their websites. If you use sample forms for a county different from your home county, make sure to adapt the forms by changing the name of the county and making any other necessary adjustments.