When a married couple decides to file for 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. A mutual consent divorce makes the legal process much easier and shorter than a traditional divorce.
In Pennsylvania, the court may call an uncontested divorce a “no-fault divorce” or a “mutual consent divorce.”
A mutual consent divorce is a faster divorce process than traditional divorce—you can get divorced in three to four months, rather than the standard two or more years. However, to take advantage of a mutual consent 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 any issue, you will need to start the process for a traditional divorce.
You must meet the following requirements to file a mutual consent divorce in Pennsylvania:
Ninety days after you file the divorce papers, each spouse will file an affidavit (written declaration) stating that each agrees to the divorce. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3301 (c).) After the court receives these affidavits, along with other documents, the court will then grant a divorce. No formal hearing is required. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3301 (d).)
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 your financial issues resolved before filing for divorce.
You can’t ask the court to decide property distribution or alimony (spousal support) claims after the divorce. If you wait until after the divorce, you will have lost the right to make any financial claims. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3504.)
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 follow the filing instructions carefully.
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.
File the complaint
To start the divorce process, you must complete several forms and file them with the Clerk of Court’s office. The clerk’s office is also known as the “Prothonotary.” One spouse, called the “plaintiff,” files the divorce complaint with the court, and the other spouse is 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, and Lehigh County Clerk of Court - Mutual Consent Divorce forms.
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. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3104 (b).)
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 copy, you will receive one back, and you must serve one stamped copy to 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 Pauperis petition—which you can find at the clerk’s office.
If you and your spouse have children together, the court may require you and your spouse to attend a parenting class. The class requirement will vary from county to county, and you can check with the clerk of court in the county where you file to determine if you need to attend.
Serve your spouse and file proof of service
Serving papers on your spouse means delivering your divorce papers according to special legal rules. If your spouse signs the Acceptance of Service form, you may mail a copy of the papers by regular mail.
You have 30 days from the date you file 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.
Consents and other documents
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 to sign. You will also mail a Waiver of Notice to your spouse. Your spouse will sign both forms and mail them back to you. Once you receive the documents, you’ll need to take both copies to the clerk of court.
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 the court waived it earlier in the process.
Finalize the divorce
Once you file all the documents, the clerk will forward your case to the 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.
For more information, read the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 23, Chapter 33.