Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

Learn about the grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania.

By , Attorney | Updated by Joseph Pandolfi, Retired Judge

When filing for divorce, spouses must identify the "ground" or legal reason for the request to end the marriage. Pennsylvania recognizes both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce.

Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania

In a "fault" divorce, one spouse accuses the other of engaging in some type of misconduct that led to the divorce. Fault must be proven in court with admissible evidence, such as emails, photos, videos, and/or witness testimony. The fault grounds in Pennsylvania include:

  • adultery
  • abandonment without cause for at least one year
  • cruelty, including domestic violence, which endangered the life or health of the injured and innocent spouse
  • bigamy
  • conviction of a crime and imprisonment for two or more years, and
  • humiliating the innocent spouse in such a way that makes the marriage intolerable.

(23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3301 (a).)

In deciding whether to choose a fault divorce in Pennsylvania, as a general rule there's usually little to no benefit. Having to prove fault invariably increases stress levels and tends to prolong the divorce process. This, in turn, leads to mounting attorneys' fees. And there's also the prospect of having to bring witnesses into court to help prove your claim, which can be a major inconvenience to family and friends.

However, there's one scenario in which fault can make a difference. A judge may consider marital misconduct when deciding whether to award alimony. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3701 (b).) But wrongdoing is only one of many factors a judge will look at. So you'd be wise to consult with a local divorce lawyer as to whether using a fault-based ground for divorce is worth it under the circumstances of your case.

No-Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania

Divorcing spouses who want to avoid a full-blown court battle that will involve airing their dirty laundry in court have an alternative to a "fault divorce," which is a "no-fault" divorce.

In a no-fault case, neither spouse accuses the other of causing the divorce. Spouses can request a divorce based on the ground of "irretrievable breakdown," which just means the couple can't get along anymore, and their marriage is broken beyond repair. There are two types of no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania.

The quickest route to a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania is when there's mutual consent. In other words, both spouses agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken. In this scenario, a court may grant the divorce if the couple meet all of the following requirements:

  • both spouses have alleged that the marriage is irretrievably broken
  • 90 days have passed since the divorce action was filed, and
  • both spouses have filed an affidavit (written declaration) stating that they each consent to the divorce. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3301 (c).)

Where one spouse claims the marriage is irretrievably broken, but the other spouse disagrees, the process gets a bit more complicated. The court can still grant the divorce, but only if it finds that all the following conditions exist:

  • the filed divorce complaint states that the marriage is irretrievably broken
  • the spouse seeking the divorce has filed an affidavit stating the couple have lived separate and apart for at least one year and that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and
  • the other spouse either: doesn't deny the allegations set forth in the affidavit; or, denies one or more of the allegations but, after a court hearing, the judge determines that the spouses have lived separate and apart for a period of at least one year and that the marriage is irretrievably broken. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3301 (d).)

It's important to remember that choosing no-fault grounds doesn't necessarily mean the divorce is uncontested. The ground for divorce is only one aspect of the process. You'll typically be addressing other issues, such as alimony (spousal support), division of property and debt, child custody, and child support. For a divorce to be truly uncontested, all marital issues need to be resolved.

Institutionalization as a Basis for Divorce

There's a ground for divorce in Pennsylvania that relates to a spouse's insanity or serious mental disorder. It comes about when a spouse has been confined to a mental institution for at least 18 months immediately before the start of the divorce, and where there's no reasonable prospect that the spouse will be discharged from inpatient care during the 18 months after the start of the divorce. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3301 (b).)

A Word About Annulment in Pennsylvania

In certain instances, a spouse might have grounds for an annulment of the marriage. An annulment may be warranted where the circumstances surrounding the marriage render it void (or invalid). In Pennsylvania, an example would be where the spouses were related to each other within a legally prohibited degree, such as first cousins. (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1304 (e).) In such cases, a court will treat the marriage as void, as if it never occurred.

The law regarding annulment can be quite complex, so consider consulting a local divorce lawyer before taking any action.

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