Understanding the Pennsylvania Divorce Process
If you have decided it’s time to dissolve your marriage, you may be wondering what you’ll get into if you file for divorce. Will there be a trial? Will you have to testify? How long will it take? What are the court fees? Here is a brief outline of divorce procedure to put your mind at ease.
- Residency requirement — You or your spouse must have lived in Pennsylvania for six months prior to the filing of the divorce.
- Filing the Petition — Your divorce begins when you or your spouse files a Complaint in the court of the county where one of you resides with two forms, “Notice to Defend and Claim Rights” and “Verification,” attached. Your complaint must contain a prayer for relief instructing the court how you would like issues of alimony, child custody, child support, and property division decided. There are filing fees set by the county, which amount to several hundred dollars.
- Service of Process — After you file, you must serve copies of the papers to your spouse within 30 days or within 90 days if your spouse lives outside Pennsylvania. If you miss this deadline. you can ask for your Complaint to be reinstated by filing a Form 4. It is advisable to hire a professional process server to effectuate service, but you can also use certified mail.
- The Respondent’s Answer — The Respondent spouse has 90 days from the date of service to respond to the Complaint.
- 3301(c) Consent Divorce — If both parties agree to the divorce, they can file an Affidavit of Consent 90 days after the service of the Complaint to the Respondent spouse. The court requires numerous additional forms including your Proposed Divorce Decree (Form 13), known informally as your marital settlement agreement. Parties usually reach such an agreement through traditional negotiation, mediation, or the collaborative divorce process. This amounts to an uncontested divorce. There is no trial, and the court mails your final divorce decree to you, assuming there are no mistakes on your forms.
- 3301(d) Nonconsent Divorce — If both parties do not agree to the divorce, you can proceed with a non-consent no-fault divorce if you have lived apart for either one year (if you began living apart on or after December 5, 2016) or two years (if you began living apart before December 5, 2016). You must file an “Affidavit Under 3301(d) of the Divorce Code” (Form 8), a “Notice of Intention to Request Entry of Section 3301(d) Divorce Decree and Counter-Affidavit” (Form 9), and an “Affidavit of Non-Military Service” (Form 10). You must wait 20 days, and then you can file the remaining forms, including your Proposed Divorce Decree (Form 13), informing the court of your marital settlement agreement. The court will mail your divorce decree to you, provided all your paperwork is in order.
- Contested divorce — If you cannot reach a marital settlement agreement with your spouse, the court schedules hearings on outstanding issues, and you go to trial.
How long a divorce takes and how much it costs depend on many factors, the most important being how well you and your spouse can cooperate to get it done. Of course, simply getting it done is not enough; the terms have to be fair. When it comes to your parental and property rights, it’s better to take extra time to get the best results possible.