Know the Laws: Pennsylvania
UPDATED October 26, 2016
Below you will find basic information about divorce laws in Pennsylvania.
back to topWhat are the residency requirements to file for divorce in Pennsylvania?
You and/or or your spouse must have lived in Pennsylvania for at least six months immediately prior to filing for divorce.*
* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3104(b)
back to topWhat are the grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, you have the option of filing for a no-fault divorce or a fault-based divorce by proving one of the following grounds (reasons).
Fault-based grounds for divorce
The judge may grant a divorce if your spouse has done one of the following:
- Abandonment (your spouse has left the home) without a reasonable cause for a period of one or more years;
- Adultery (your spouse has “cheated” on you);
- Cruel and barbarous treatment (your spouse has treated you in a way that puts your life or health at risk, such as acts of domestic violence;
- Bigamy (your spouse married you without divorcing his/her first spouse);
- Imprisonment for two or more years; or
- Your spouse has acted in a way that made your life unbearable or extremely difficult.*
No-fault grounds for divorce
By claiming the following reasons for divorce, you are claiming that the divorce is not your spouse's fault:
- Mutual consent - you and your spouse agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken (cannot be fixed). Each spouse must file an affidavit stating that s/he consents to the divorce; however, if your spouse has been convicted of committing a personal injury crime against you, his/her consent is presumed (even if s/he does not file the affidavit of consent). After filing for the divorce, the judge will wait 90 days before granting the divorce. Under these circumstances, a divorce can be granted without a court hearing;
- Irretrievable breakdown (the marriage cannot be fixed) - you and your spouse have lived apart for a period of at least two years, and you file a complaint saying that the marriage is irretrievably broken (unfixable). To be granted a divorce under these circumstances, your spouse must not deny that the marriage is irretrievably broken, or that you have lived apart for two years. If s/he denies either, the judge may still grant a divorce if s/he decides, following a hearing at which your spouse has the opportunity to tell his/her side, that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that you and your spouse have lived apart for two years. However, if after a hearing, the judge decides that there is a reasonable possibility that you and your spouse can reconcile (get back together), the judge will continue the case for a period of approximately 90 – 120 days (unless the parties agree to a period in excess of 120 days). During this time, the judge will order you both to go to counseling. If at the end of this period one or both of you still wants a divorce, the judge will reconsider whether s/he believes the marriage is irretrievably broken. If the judge decides that it is, s/he will grant the divorce; or
- Institutionalization - your spouse is found to be insane or has a mental disorder and needs to be confined to a mental institution. Your spouse must have been in a mental institution for at least 18 months prior to filing for divorce, and there must be no reasonable belief that your spouse will be discharged in the 18 months after you file for divorce. Under these circumstances, a divorce can be granted without a court hearing.**
* 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3301(a)
** 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3301(b)-(e)
In Pennsylvania, a judge may find that one spouse will have to pay money to the other after a divorce, which is referred to as alimony. Generally, the judge will determine if alimony should be paid, and how much, based on whether it is reasonable and necessary.*
The judge will consider a series of factors in considering whether alimony is necessary and the nature, amount, duration and manner in which it should be paid. These factors can include:
- The relative earnings and earning capacity of you and your spouse;
- The age and physical, mental and emotional conditions of you and your spouse;
- The source of income for you and your spouse (including medical, retirement, insurance and other benefits);
- Any inheritance or other form of money you and your spouse expect to receive;
- How long the marriage lasted;
- The contribution you or your spouse made to each other’s education, training or “increased earning power;”
- How the earning power, expenses or financial obligations of you or your spouse will be affected by having custody of a minor child;
- The standard of living established during the marriage;
- The relative education of you and your spouse and the time it may take the spouse seeking alimony to get education or training to find employment;
- The assets and liabilities of you and your spouse;
- The property brought to the marriage by you and your spouse;
- Contributions that you or your spouse made as a homemaker;
- The relative needs of you or your spouse;
- The “marital misconduct” of you or your spouse before the final separation date;
- Abuse of one spouse to the other during the marriage, including after the final separation date;
- The tax ramifications that may come with awarding alimony;
- Whether you or your spouse, whomever is seeking the alimony, lacks enough property to pay for your “reasonable needs;” and
- Whether the party seeking alimony cannot self-support through employment.**
After weighing the various factors, the judge will determine how much alimony will be paid and for how long it will be paid, which may be for a set period of time, or indefinite.*** If circumstances change for either spouse, the judge might modify, suspend, reinstate or make a new order. However, if the spouse receiving alimony re-marries, the alimony payments will end.****
* 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 3701(a)
** 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 3701(b)
*** 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 3701(c)
**** 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 3701(e)
back to topWhat are the basic steps for filing for divorce?
While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps:
- First, you must meet the residency requirements of the state.
- Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
- Third, you must file divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse.
- Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, he will have the opportunity to file papers telling his side. This is called “contesting the divorce.” In this case, you will have to attend a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. If your spouse does not disagree with anything, he should sign the papers and send them back to you and/or the court. This is called an “uncontested divorce.” If a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway. You should speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers the divorce papers before you can continue with the divorce.
- Fifth, if there is property that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, you will have to work that out in an out-of-court settlement, or in a series of court hearings. Custody may also be decided as part of your divorce.
back to topWhere can I find additional information about divorce?
We hope the following links to outside sources may be useful.
The Pennsylvania Bar Association has a brochure on divorce and separation, which also includes information on annulment.
The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania has a legal glossary that you may find helpful if you choose to get a divorce.
Neighborhood Legal Services Association provides information about divorce, including information about alimony.
WomensLaw.org is unrelated to the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of their sites. We provide these links for your information only.
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