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 and mutual consent divorce," or simply 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 (d).) 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 (e).)
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 don't need to hire a lawyer to get a mutual consent divorce in Pennsylvania and you can represent yourself during the process. Spouses can try to handle everything themselves or use an online service that eases the process. Even though there's no court battle in a mutual consent divorce, one or both spouses can hire attorneys to help them through the process. You might want to talk to a lawyer, for instance, if your case feels complex or you have unanswered questions.
To start the divorce process, you must complete several forms and file them with the county clerk's office, also known as the "Prothonotary." You may file in the county where either spouse lives, or where both spouses agree to file. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3104 (b).)
Each county has its own divorce forms and procedures, so be sure to check with your county for more information. You might 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.
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.
Next, you must "serve" (deliver) the other party with the divorce paperwork within 30 days of the date of filing. If your spouse signs the Acceptance of Service form, you may mail a copy of the papers by regular mail. 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 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, a Final Decree of Divorce, and any other forms required by your county. These forms are also available on many Pennsylvania self-help websites. You must pay a fee to file the Praecipe unless the court waived it earlier in the process.
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 your divorce will be official.