Divorce can be stressful even under the best of circumstances. But it doesn't have to involve a drawn-out, expensive court battle. If you and your spouse can agree on how you'll deal with the legal, financial, and practical details involved in ending your marriage, you can save money and time by getting an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania.
If you want to file for an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania, you must meet three basic requirements: state residency, agreement on the reason for your divorce, and agreement on the issues in your case.
To get a divorce in Pennsylvania, at least one of the spouses must have been a resident of the state for at least six months immediately before filing the divorce papers. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3104(b) (2022).)
As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in Pennsylvania. The state allows divorce based on both "fault" grounds and "no-fault" grounds. In a divorce based on one of the fault grounds, you would claim that your marriage is ending because your spouse engaged in a certain kind of misconduct, like adultery, desertion, or cruelty. Most of the time, your spouse would deny your claims, leading to a drawn-out legal battle. In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse is accusing the other of wrongdoing.
When you and your spouse are working together on an uncontested divorce, you may file based on the ground known as "mutual consent." To get a mutual consent divorce, you must meet the following requirements:
(23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3301(c) (2022).)
Pennsylvania also allows no-fault divorces based on a year-long separation (along with a claim that your marriage is irretrievably broken), but you typically would only use that ground when your spouse doesn't agree to the divorce. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3301(d) (2022).)
Before you file for an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse will need to work out agreements on all the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
It's important to remember that if you don't ask for alimony or a distribution of marital property as part of the divorce, you may not request it later.
If you're having trouble agreeing about any of your divorce issues—or any other matters you want to address in your divorce—mediation might help you find solutions that work for both you and your spouse. Most mediators will prepare a document that reflects any agreements you've reached during the process. You can use this document to prepare your written marital settlement agreement (sometimes referred to as a "property settlement agreement" or "divorce settlement agreement"). Some mediators or mediation services will also help with the process of filing for divorce.
As with most legal proceedings, you'll need to submit some forms to start your uncontested Pennsylvania divorce case. When you're filing for an uncontested divorce, you can find some of the forms and directions on the Pennsylvania Judicial System website.
To start the process, the basic form you'll need is the "Notice to Defend and Divorce Complaint." This form combines your formal request for the divorce and the document (similar to a summons in other states) that gives your spouse formal notice that you've filed for divorce, along with information about your spouse's rights in the proceeding.
When you are representing yourself in the divorce, you'll also need to include the "Self-Represented Party Entry of Appearance" form, which lets the court know that you don't have a lawyer to represent you in the divorce.
It's important to note that individual Pennsylvania counties may have their own forms. So you need to check the appropriate county's website to find the particular forms you'll need. The Judicial System website contains links to each county. (See below to learn the options for the county where you may file the divorce paperwork.)
To simplify matters, you could instead file for divorce online by using a service that will complete the proper uncontested divorce forms for you, based on your answers to a questionnaire. Online divorce services will typically also help you create a settlement agreement, and some will take care of filing the divorce papers, for an additional fee.
Once you've completed and signed the applicable forms, you'll have to file them with the court. You do this by providing copies to the Prothonotary's office (court clerk) of the county where you want the divorce proceeding to take place. If you'd prefer not to hand-deliver your documents to the court, check with your county about the possibility of using the state's electronic filing system.
Usually, you should file for divorce in the Pennsylvania county where your spouse currently lives. But you may file in the county where you live if any of the following are true:
(23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3104(e) (2022).)
You'll almost always need to pay a fee to file the divorce papers (more on that below).
Once you file the divorce papers with the court, you must deliver copies to your spouse through a formal method known as "service of process." In Pennsylvania, you may serve your spouse with the paperwork using one of the following methods:
(Pa. Rules Civ. Proc., rules 402(b), 1930.4 (2022).)
If your spouse lives in Pennsylvania, you must complete service within 30 days after you've filed the complaint. If your spouse is out of state, you'll have 90 days to serve the divorce papers. (Pa. Rules Civ. Proc., rules 401, 404 (2022).)
If you don't serve your spouse within the required time period, you'll have to file a form to have your divorce complaint reinstated ("Praecipe to Reinstate the Complaint").
As mentioned above, when you're filing for an uncontested divorce, a Pennsylvania judge may not sign your final divorce decree until at least 90 days have passed since you filed the complaint. This waiting period is intended to give the spouses time to think about the consequences of a divorce, and to request counseling from the court if they feel it would be beneficial.
In practice, you won't get your final divorce decree right away once the 90-day waiting period is up. Instead, that's when you may file the various forms to start the process of finalizing your divorce, including:
(Pa. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 1920.42(a) (2022).)
Be aware of the fact that if you and your spouse have minor children, some Pennsylvania counties may require you to take a parenting class before you can get your final divorce. The purpose of the class is to counsel parents on the effects divorce has on children, and to suggest ways to avoid making a difficult situation worse. Check with the court in your county to see whether you'll have to attend a parenting class.
When you're filing for an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania based on mutual consent, you may not have to appear in court for a final hearing. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3301(e) (2022).) In that case, the judge will simply review your paperwork and, if everything is in order, will sign the divorce decree. The court will then mail the final divorce decree to you. Again, check with your Prothonotary to determine the local court's policy on this.
As a rule, an uncontested divorce is a lot cheaper than a traditional, contested divorce. That's because many couples can get through the uncontested divorce process without hiring lawyers to represent them—which leads to big savings on the normal cost of divorce.
When you're representing yourself, the basic expense for an uncontested divorce will be the court fee for filing the divorce papers. Filing fees in Pennsylvania vary from county to county, so you'll need to contact the Prothonotary's office to determine the required fees for the court where you plan to file. In most counties, the filing fees for divorce total between $200 and $300. If you can't afford the fees, you can file a "Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis."
Beyond the filing fee, your other costs will depend on whether you get a "pure" do-it-yourself divorce or you need some help with the process.