Understanding the kinds of divorces available in Pennsylvania can inform you what steps to take and how you can approach the separation process. Several factors can determine if you'll need to take the matter before a judge or if you'll be able to settle without a trial. Only residents of six months can file for divorce in Pennsylvania, and the pleadings typically will be filed in the county of the last marital residence.
Fault vs. No-Fault
Before you even look at beginning the divorce process, Pennsylvania law dictates that anyone seeking a divorce will need to establish “grounds” or reasons to separate. There are three “grounds” for divorce in Pennsylvania: 1) Fault (which includes abuse, infidelity, etc., 2) No-Fault with both parties agreeing to divorce, 3) No-Fault after the parties have been separate for at least a year. You'll either file a fault or “no-fault” divorce. Check out 23 Pa. Cons. § 3301(a).
If you feel your spouse has wronged you, you'll be able to file a fault divorce. This means if they committed adultery, committed “malicious desertion” without cause for one or more years, endangered your life or health “by cruel or barbarous treatment,” knowingly or willfully committing bigamy, or committed “indignities” to you that made your day-to-day “condition intolerable and life burdensome.”
Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, so married couples can file for divorce without needing the other party to have wronged them. Both spouses can agree the relationship is irretrievably broken, and neither wish to remain married. Most divorces in Pennsylvania proceed under the “no fault” provisions of the divorce code. In those situations, the divorce is granted upon “mutual consent” or a period of separation for at least a year. Check 23 Pa. Cons. §3301(c).
In matters of same-sex marriage or union, working to divorce or separate follows the same legal statutes for a marriage between opposite-sex couples. Couples can file for mutual consent, one-year separation, or fault divorces based on legal grounds.
Cohabitation Agreements and Domestic Partnerships
In Pennsylvania, same-sex couples or opposite couples can seek a cohabitation agreement or a domestic partnership. Before same-sex marriage was permitted in the state, domestic partnerships would allow spouses to receive benefits and recognition of rights in lieu of marriage.
Cohabitation agreements are recognized across Pennsylvania. Cohabitation agreements allow unmarried couples who want to remain unmarried but share property ownership or finances to determine how the couple's assets, debts, and benefits might be shared during a relationship and how they'll be divided should the relationship end. Cohabitation agreements are limited in that they do not grant the couple all of the same equitable rights in each other's property as a marriage does.
In a divorce decree, a clause may be included to grant alimony from the spouse with more income to the spouse with less income. There are a few types of alimony:
- Spousal support — payments given to the dependent spouse after separation before a divorce is filed.
- Alimony pendente lite — payments granted to the dependent spouse after a divorce is filed but before it is finalized.
- Alimony — payments awarded to the dependent spouse after a divorce is finalized.
For more information about types, how much to pay, how to modify alimony, and the duration of payments, check out 37 Pa. Cons. §3701(a).
Child Custody and Support
Pennsylvania law dictates that parents have the right to see their children and are responsible for providing for them. Parents do not have to be married or to have previously been in a relationship for child custody or support to begin.
When parents separate or end their relationship, custody orders and support orders will determine how much support will be paid and what custody schedule will be followed. Parents can either reach a mutual agreement on these plans and payments, or the court will hold hearings and enter an order after a hearing.
Both the orders for child custody and support can be modified if one or both parties show substantial changes in their circumstances. One parent may have lost their job, or a parent could have received a raise. Parents can agree to modify parenting plans or payments, but a court must approve those changes.
Child custody modification is covered in 53 Pa. Cons. §5338.
Contempt and Enforcement
If a party has been required to pay child support, ordered to share custody of a child, or is court-ordered to make alimony payments, they are legally bound to follow those agreements and court orders. If they choose not to, they face contempt of court charges and possibly more penalties, like liens on property or losing their driver's license, and in some extreme cases, even jail
The courts can work with individuals to adjust their payments or schedules to help them get into compliance and stay in compliance with orders, but the law does not usually look kindly on anyone not following the divorce agreements. These Pennsylvania statutes outline contempt of court orders.
In Pennsylvania, prenuptial, or premarital, agreements act as a contract between two partners before they are married. The agreements establish understandings between the couple, such as the division of property or assets. They activate upon marriage. See 23 Pa. Cons. §3106.
Turn to a Bucks County Family Law Attorney
Family law is complicated. There are sensitive topics that must be handled delicately. Having someone experienced in legal matters in Bucks County can help you navigate the process to reach your desired outcome.
Attorney Susan Gibson with Gibson Family Law, PLLC, has been practicing family law exclusively in Bucks County for nearly 15 years. She can help you file the proper paperwork and work to find the most appropriate strategy for you. Susan is ready to hear your case.