Articles have been written, videos have been created, and seminars have been provided about Pennsylvania divorce laws. While it would be impossible to address all of the nuances of Pennsylvania divorce law in a single blog post, this post will introduce you to important Pennsylvania statutes that you need to be aware of before you file for divorce in Pennsylvania.
Important Pennsylvania Divorce Laws
Pennsylvania laws establish:
• Residency requirements: At least one spouse must be a Pennsylvania resident for six months prior to filing for divorce. Generally, a divorce must be filed in a Pennsylvania county where the defendant lives, where the plaintiff lives if the defendant lives out of state, or where the couple lived when they were married if the plaintiff still resides in that county. Exceptions do apply.
• Grounds for filing for divorce: The grounds for divorce must be stated in the divorce complaint. Pennsylvania law establishes the following grounds for divorce:
o No fault – mutual consent. When both parties agree to a divorce.
o No fault – irretrievable breakdown. When the parties have lived apart for two or more years and the marriage is irretrievably broken.
o Fault. There are six at-fault grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania including,
Willful and malicious desertion, without a reasonable cause, for one year or more.
Cruel treatment that endangered the health or life of a spouse.
Knowingly entering a bigamous marriage
Being sentenced to two years or more in prison after being convicted of a crime.
Having committed such indignities to the injured spouse so as to make that spouse’s life intolerable and burdensome.
• Counseling or mediation requirements: The court may require the parties to attend an orientation about divorce mediation. If the parties consent to mediation then the court may require them to mediate certain issues. In certain cases of abuse, orientation may not be required.
• How to file for divorce: Pennsylvania statutes require that certain forms be completed and filed in order to obtain a divorce.
• Property distribution: Pennsylvania has equitable distribution property division laws. That means that property should be divided in a fair, but not necessarily equal, manner. If the divorcing couple cannot decide on an equitable distribution of property then the law requires court to divide the property in a just manner considering the following factors:
o Length of marriage.
o Any prior marriages.
o Age, health, station, income, vocational skills, employability, debts and other financial factors of each party.
o Contribution of one party to the education or increased earning power or the other party.
o The opportunity of either party for the further acquisition of assets.
o All sources of income for both parties.
o The contribution of each party to the property in the marital estate. This includes contributions of a homemaker.
o The value of any separate property held by either spouse.
o The standard of living established by the couple during the marriage.
o The economic ramifications (including tax consequences) of property division.
o Whether either party is to become the custodian of minor children.
• Spousal support: Spousal support, or alimony, is not awarded in every case but may be awarded if necessary. In determining whether spousal support is necessary and for how long it might be necessary the court will consider:
o Income and earning capacity of both parties.
o Ages of both parties.
o Expectancies and inheritances of both parties.
o Duration of the marriage.
o Contribution of one spouse to the education or increased earning power of the other spouse.
o How the spouses’ earning capacities may be impacted by child custody arrangements.
o Standard of living established during marriage.
o Relative education of both spouses.
o The time it may take a spouse to become employed.
o Assets and liabilities of both parties.
o Property each spouse brought to the marriage.
o Contribution of a spouse as a homemaker.
o The needs of each party.
o Marital misconduct.
o Tax implications of alimony.
o Whether the party seeking alimony lacks sufficient property to meet his or her reasonable needs.
o Whether the party seeking alimony is capable of self-support through employment.
• Child custody: When parents cannot agree on child custody, the court will make the decision that it deems to be in the best interest of the children. Issues such as engagement with the child, supporting a relationship with a non-custodial parent, and past abuse may all be relevant to the court’s decision.
• Child support: Pennsylvania child support laws use guidelines to determine the amount of money it takes to support a child each month and then that amount is divided proportionally according to each parent’s income.
Contact a Pennsylvania Divorce Lawyer with Questions
As always, it is important to get any legal questions answered by an experienced Pennsylvania divorce lawyer before filing paperwork with the court. Contacting a lawyer does not have to be expensive, particularly if you and your spouse agree on most of your divorce terms. However, the consequences of not obtaining legal help can be costly.