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) (2023).)
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. But when you and your spouse are working together on an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania, you'll 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) (2023).)
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.
Once you've resolved all of these issues, you'll need to put the provisions in a written divorce settlement agreement (sometimes called a "property settlement agreement" or "marital settlement agreement").
If you haven't agreed on all the issues involved in ending your marriage before you start the legal process, your case will proceed as a traditional contested divorce. This means you'll probably have to go through several legal steps before you can get your final divorce in Pennsylvania, including:
Even if you manage to reach a settlement before going to a final trial, all of this takes time. And since you'll very likely need a lawyer's help to navigate the contested divorce process, it will also increase the cost of divorce.
There's no need for any of these extra steps with an uncontested divorce. That's why—as we explain further below—uncontested divorces are quicker, cost less, and result in less stress for the entire family.
As with most legal proceedings, you'll need to submit some forms to start your uncontested Pennsylvania divorce case, including the following:
You can find some of the statewide forms and directions on the Pennsylvania Judicial System website. Also, individual Pennsylvania counties may have their own forms. So once you know where you'll file your divorce papers (more on that below), 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.
You could also choose to use an online divorce service to get help with the forms (more on that below).
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.
You'll almost always need to pay a fee to file the divorce papers (more on that below).
If you don't have children, you may file for divorce in the Pennsylvania county where either you or your spouse currently lives (with no minimimum time requirement on that residency), or in another county that both of you have agreed on (either in a written agreement filed with the other papers or simply by participating in the divorce proceeding there. (Pa. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 1920.2 (2023).)
However, if child custody issues are a part of your divorce, Pennsylvania has different residency rules. Usually, you'll file your paperwork in the county where the child has lived with a parent (or someone acting as a parent) for the past six months, or since birth for a child younger than six months. (Pa. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 1915.2 (2023).) There are exceptions to this rule. But they can be complicated, so you might need to speak with an attorney if your child isn't living with a parent in Pennsylvania.
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:
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. 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"). (Pa. Rules Civ. Proc., rules 401, 402, 403, 404 (2023).)
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) (2023).)
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) (2023).) 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.
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 costs will depend on whether you get a "pure" do-it-yourself divorce or you need some help with the process (more on that below).
You might be able to get through the divorce process on your own if you and your spouse can agree on all the issues, and you have the time and other resources to find, complete, and file all of the divorce paperwork. But you can get help with any of those steps: