There are two or three types of divorce in Pennsylvania, depending on how you categorize them. The two main categories are fault-based divorce and no-fault divorce. There are two different “paths” for no-fault divorce. I cannot go into all the details in one blog post, but I will describe the basics.
As the names implies, no-fault divorce is the process of legally ending a marriage with no regard for anything either spouse has done during the marriage. The legal basis for a no-fault divorce is “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage, which means the marriage is broken and unable to be fixed. The first type of no-fault divorce is when both spouses are consenting to the divorce. In that scenario, at least ninety days after one spouse files the divorce complaint with the court and serve it on the other spouse, both spouses can sign the required paperwork and file that paperwork with the court to request a divorce decree. The ninety day waiting period is a minimum, so the paperwork to finalize the divorce can be filed any time after the ninety days, but not before.
The second type of no-fault divorce is the scenario where one spouse files a divorce complaint and serves it on the other spouse, but for whatever reason the second spouse refuses to consent to the no-fault divorce as described above. In this scenario, the spouse seeking the divorce can ask the court to enter a divorce decree without the other spouse’s consent after they have been separated for one year.
The vast majority of divorces in Pennsylvania are no-fault divorces. However, the Pennsylvania divorce code still contains a provision for fault-based divorce. With a fault-based divorce, the spouse seeking the divorce must be the “innocent and injured party,” which means he or she must prove to the court that she or he has not committed any faults, and must prove that the other spouse has committed one or more faults. Fault in Pennsylvania means the following: 1) Willful and malicious desertion (one or more years); 2) Adultery; 3) Physical cruelty; 4) Bigamy; 5) Sentenced to prison for two or more years for conviction of a crime; 6) Indignities (an ongoing course of conduct which renders the other spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome); and 7) Insanity or serious mental disorder (confined in a mental institution for at least eighteen months). Very few people want to have a court hearing and testify to a judge about everything both spouses did wrong during their marriage.
Several general principles apply to all divorces. First, the court will generally not issue a divorce decree until all economic claims between the spouses (for example, distribution of property or alimony) have been resolved by agreement or by court order. That means most divorce actions take longer than ninety days to be resolved because resolving those economic claims takes time – sometimes a lot of time. Second, all of the economic claims are the same regardless of the type of divorce. Third, questions regarding child support and parenting arrangements are separate from the divorce action. Therefore, you can have three separate court cases pending at the same time.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Mechanicsburg, Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss divorce or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.