Once you've chosen to end your relationship with your partner, you might feel like there's a deadline you need to reach some peace of mind.
However, each case can be unique, so knowing how long a divorce or separation can take might ease your mind.
Understanding Pennsylvania's family law system could help you reach the desired outcome.
Factors That Impact the Length of a Divorce
You may wonder how long you will take to resolve your divorce matter. Unfortunately, it's impossible to nail down a specific length of time. Every divorce is different. Many factors impact the time it takes for your divorce to be finalized.
Type of Divorce
The type of divorce you seek does not have much impact how long it takes to finalize your situation. The issue of property division, which is not connected to the type of divorce you seek, is what impacts how long your divorce will take.
With very rare exceptions, the parties must agree to a division of property, or have the court decide the division of property, before a final divorce decree will be entered by the Court.
Pennsylvania is a no-fault divorce state and the vast majority of cases proceed by way of mutual consent or after at least one-year of separation. Pennsylvania still recognizes “fault” divorce grounds but because fault is not a factor in how to divide marital property, there is usually little no benefit in proving fault grounds.
Mutual Consent Divorce
A consent divorce is granted when both parties agree the relationship is irretrievably broken and both parties sign Affidavits with the court consenting to the divorce. Once the divorce complaint is filed and served, there is a mandatory 90-day waiting period before the parties can sign their consent to the divorce.
Even if both parties agree to the divorce, the case cannot be finalized until a distribution of property has been agreed to by the parties or the court decides on a final distribution of property, which can take some time depending on the complexities of the case.
If there are no issues of property to decide, and both parties agree to the divorce, then the divorce can be finalized in about four to six months from the date it was filed.
One-Year Separation Divorce
If one party does not sign their consent to the divorce, then after the parties have lived “separate and apart” for at least one year, one party can file an Affidavit with the court asserting the date of separation so that the court can proceed to address a division of property, and ultimately enter a final decree in divorce.
Pennsylvania does not have legal separation and does not require the parties to physically reside in separate homes to prove they have been separated for one year. Pennsylvania will presume the parties are separated as of the date one party files a divorce complaint, but either party can assert and prove an earlier date, depending on the specific facts of the case.
If one party denies the date of separation set forth in the Affidavit, the court will have a hearing to determine the parties date of separation. Once a date of separation is agreed upon, or determined by the court, then the parties will need to agree upon a distribution of property, or if they can't agree, then the court will need to decide how to distribute the property.
As with consent divorces, the issue of property division can take some time, depending on the complexities of the case.
A spouse may seek a fault divorce where their partner has done something wrongful to cause the divorce. People often avoid fault divorce because it can be more costly and take more time.
Also, there is no benefit in Pennsylvania to prove fault grounds because fault is not a factor the court considers when distributing property.
Assets Involved in the Divorce
The amount and value of assets involved in a divorce can impact the time it takes to achieve a divorce. If highly valued assets or property exist, it may take time to accurately identify or value those more complex assets, even when the parties approach their divorce amicably.
If more typical assets are the only assets of a divorce, then the parties can often reach agreements quickly if both parties are motivated to resolve the case.
Divorce Involving Children
Property division and divorce in Pennsylvania are decided separately from any issues involving custody or support of the children. You can reach final orders by agreement or through the court in any order in Pennsylvania.
You may resolve custody and support first, and then address issues of marital property. In some cases, parties are able to quickly resolve all outstanding issues as one comprehensive agreement.
How Long Will Divorce Take If My Ex Refuses to Cooperate?
The fewer things you and your partner can agree upon, the longer the divorce will take to finalize. If one party does not provide necessary information to the other side during the divorce process, it can take much longer than needed to finalize the divorce. The more cooperative each side is with their own attorneys and each other, the faster the process will be.
It's best for both parties to begin the divorce process knowing they will have to make some concessions. However, there is a time and a place to stand your ground, and an attorney can help you pick your battles.
Here is a rundown of the divorce timeline and how long each step is estimated to complete.
Step 1: Decide to Pursue Divorce
Some people who want a divorce will remain with their ex for many reasons — financial, emotional, or otherwise. Whatever reasons you remained married, the first step toward divorce is making that final decision to pursue divorce.
Step 2: File a Divorce Complaint or Move Out
One party will often start the process by moving out or filing a Complaint in Divorce, which is the document needed to begin the court process of ending your marriage and dividing your property.
It is not required to file for divorce immediately after separating from your spouse, but it is often advisable to do so. Moving from the marital residence has many nuances and it may or may not be in your best interest to move out.
Likewise, if your spouse chooses to move out, this could have implications for you that you need to understand and explore with your divorce attorney. The sooner you receive advice from an attorney, the better equipped you will be to understand your options after deciding to pursue divorce.
Step 3: Reach a Divorce Settlement Agreement with Your Ex
The fastest way to achieve a divorce is to make a settlement agreement regarding all the critical issues. If you can't agree on some of the issues, the court will have to decide them for you.
This can take time. Drafting and signing a settlement agreement can take a few weeks to complete if everyone is amicable, but it will take longer if one party refuses to cooperate.
Step 4: Attend Hearings
If you can't reach a complete settlement agreement, the court will hold hearings about the issues that need to be resolved. It can take weeks or months to get on the court's calendar to be heard.
Step 5: Finalizing Your Divorce
There is no specific deadline associated with finalizing your divorce. You may have to go to court hearings on multiple occasions if you are unable to negotiate a final resolution with your spouse.
Typically, a divorce can take six months to a year or more to complete because many factors are at play. An uncooperative party, and the character and value of assets involved can make the process more complex.
Contact a Divorce Lawyer to Expedite Your Case
If you want to get a divorce in Pennsylvania, working with an attorney improves the chance of minimizing the time it takes to finalize.
Gibson Family Law, PLLC has a thorough understanding of family law in Pennsylvania. Attorney Susan Gibson has been exclusively practicing family law in Bucks County for nearly 15 years. We can help you navigate the process without wasting time.
Call us today at (267) 337-6524 or use our online contact form to reach out.