Pennsylvania Divorce Laws

Learn about the basics of divorce in Pennsylvania, from property division to how long your divorce will take.

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School

For Pennsylvania couples considering divorce, it's important to understand the legal requirements you must meet before filing. Understanding what's required ahead of time, can help speed up your divorce. This article provides an overview of divorce in Pennsylvania. If you have questions after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Residency Requirements for Pennsylvania Divorces

Pennsylvania has enacted residency requirements for couples seeking divorce. Specifically, one or both spouses must have lived in Pennsylvania for at least six months before filing for divorce. Additionally, any divorce paperwork must be filed in the Pennsylvania county where one or both spouses reside. However, if the non-filing spouse lives in a different county than where the couple lived together while married, the divorce can also be filed in one of the following counties:

  • county where the couple resided while married, if the filing spouse has lived there continuously since the separation
  • county where filing spouse lives if other spouse agrees, or
  • county where either spouse lives if neither spouse lives in the county where they lived during the marriage.

In cases where one spouse has moved outside of Pennsylvania, the filing spouse may file in the county where he or she resides. Pennsylvania has several filing options and exceptions to minimize the possibility that either spouse has to travel a long distance to obtain a divorce. If you have specific questions about where to file your case, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania?

When filing for divorce, you must identify the reasons you want to end your marriage, also called the "grounds" for your divorce. Pennsylvania allows couples to divorce based on no-fault or fault grounds.

No-Fault Divorces

A no-fault divorce is based on a couple's "irreconcilable differences" or an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. In simple terms, this means that you and your spouse can't get along and your marriage has no hope of being repaired. When filing for a no-fault divorce, you don't need to identify a specific reason for your divorce. As the name implies, neither spouse is at fault in a no-fault divorce.

To obtain a no-fault divorce, you and your spouse must have been separated for two years before filing or you both must consent to the divorce. Additionally, a judge won't grant your no-fault divorce right away. Once you've filed your case, there is a 90-day waiting period before your divorce can be finalized.

Fault-Based Divorce

When filing for divorce on fault grounds, you'll need to provide the court with a specific reason for your divorce. The innocent spouse must prove that the other spouse caused the divorce. Pennsylvania recognizes several fault-based divorce grounds, including:

  • adultery
  • abandonment for at least one year
  • extreme cruelty, including domestic violence
  • bigamy (your spouse married you without divorcing his or her first spouse), and
  • felony conviction resulting in imprisonment for two or more years.

Fault-based divorces are usually more expensive and time-consuming that no-fault ones. Some couples seek fault divorces to have an advantage in a custody case or to increase their alimony award. See Pa.C.S. § 3301 (2020).

How Does Fault Impact Divorce in Pennsylvania?

One spouse's bad actions during marriage can impact parts of your divorce.

Property Division Isn't Based on Marital Misconduct

Pennsylvania courts divide property "equitably," or fairly, without regard to marital misconduct or any of the fault factors listed above.

Instead, courts look at many other factors when deciding how to divide property, including:

  • the length of the marriage
  • prior marriage of either spouse
  • the age, health, education, employability, liabilities and needs of each of the spouses
  • any contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse
  • the economic circumstances of each spouse, and
  • whether one spouse will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.

One exception to this rule is if your spouse misused or wasted marital funds without consent, for example, on gambling, fueling a drug addiction, or buying lavish gifts for a lover. In those situations, a judge may offset the spouse's excessive spending or waste of marital assets against his or her property award.

Alimony May Be Based on Marital Fault

When determining whether to award alimony, how much to award, and how long the award should last, Pennsylvania courts may consider either spouse's marital misconduct or fault among other factors, including:

  • the spouses' earning capacities (ability to earn income based on education, skills, job history, and local employment opportunities)
  • each spouse's age, and physical and emotional condition
  • all sources of income
  • the length of marriage
  • the standard of living established during the marriage, and
  • any marital misconduct of either spouse during the marriage.

In other words, when it comes to alimony, marital fault plays a role. For example, a finding of fault may increase the amount of alimony awarded to the innocent spouse.

Why Is My Separation Date Important in a Divorce?

Your separation date is important both to dividing property and in qualifying for a no-fault divorce. As discussed above, you and your spouse must both consent to the divorce, or be separated for at least two years before you can seek a no-fault divorce.

Additionally, when spouses separate, any property acquired after the date of separation is that spouse's separate property. This is important because spouses get to keep their separate property after a divorce, and it should not be subject to division by a court.

Your separation date can be a contentious point in your divorce since it can affect how much of the marital estate each spouse receives. When couples can't agree on a separation date, the judge will decide.

Pennsylvania law defines the date of separation as the "cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not." This basically means when you and your spouse decide to no longer continue being a romantic couple, even if you have to continue living in the same house due to financial or other reasons.

Because the Pennsylvania statutory language is rather murky, a judge will evaluate all the circumstances in your specific case to determine a separation date.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Divorce in Pennsylvania?

If you file for a no-fault divorce, and both spouses consent to the divorce and submit affidavits (written declarations) showing their consent, it will take 90 days before the divorce can be granted.

Alternatively, a couple can seek a fault-based divorce. While there is no mandatory waiting period in fault divorces, these kinds of divorces usually take longer because they require a spouse to prove the other's fault at trial. A fault based divorce can last anywhere from a few months to over a year.

If you have questions about getting divorced in Pennsylvania, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help. You can learn more about the divorce process in Pennsylvania and the legal issues you'll encounter in Pennsylvania Divorce & Family Laws.