1. Establish a Date of Separation
Often, the first step in obtaining a divorce in Pennsylvania is to establish a date of legal separation. It starts the clock ticking for certain waiting periods. The date of separation is also important because it establishes a cut-off date for the acquisition of marital assets to be divided in the divorce, and for the accumulation of marital debt.
A date of legal separation can be established in one of two ways:
- The first way is by filing a divorce complaint. The law presumes that the date of separation is the date on which the divorce complaint is filed, unless a party can establish an alternate date.
- The second way is through conduct – for example by moving out of the marital residence, or by moving into another bedroom and declaring to your spouse, friends and family that you are separated. Remember that it is possible to undo the date of separation by, for example, having marital relations. That will, in effect, cancel the prior date of separation, and a new date of separation will need to be established.
2. File for Divorce
The divorce complaint is usually filed in the county in which you reside. If you live in Bucks County, your divorce complaint will be filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County. However, if your spouse lives in another state, it raises several complex issues. You may need to file in the state in which your spouse resides. But in general, if you and your spouse have lived in Pennsylvania for more than six months, residency requirements should not be an issue.
3. Process the Divorce
The next step is to process the divorce. In simple divorces -- in which both parties agree to the divorce and are not asking the court to award support or alimony, divide marital assets or order other relief -- processing the divorce can be straightforward. Still, it involves executing and filing all of the necessary forms in the right order and at the right time, including:
- affidavits of service or acceptances of service;
- consents or affidavits of separation;
- notices or waivers of notice; and
- a praecipe for a grounds order or for the divorce decree.
Where one spouse will not agree to the divorce, or where issues such as discovery, document requests, appraisals, interim hearings, support, alimony, or equitable distribution must be resolved, processing the divorce is much more complicated
In the event that a settlement is not reached, you will need a Master's hearing on economic issues and, possibly, a trial before a judge, after which the divorce can be processed.
4. Request the Court to Enter the Divorce Decree
Only after all outstanding issues are resolved and the necessary paperwork is filed with the court can a party move a divorce to conclusion. Once those steps are completed, you are nearly finished getting divorced. The final step is to file a praecipe for entry of a divorce decree. Generally, spouses no longer sign divorce papers. The decree arrives unobtrusively in the mail or, if you are represented, is sent to your attorney.
The length of time that it takes to get divorced in Pennsylvania can be anywhere from about 5 months to several years, depending on the grounds for the divorce, the cooperation or lack thereof from the other spouse, and the issues involved in the divorce.
© 5/2/11 Cooley & Handy