Helpful Articles

Spouses involved in divorces frequently have an immediate need for cash at the time their divorce is finalized, to pay bills, make a down payment on a home or secure an apartment, or for other reasons, but lack any significant non-retirement assets from which they can obtain such funds. Often, the only significant assets of parties at the conclusion of a divorce are funds in employer-sponsored qualified retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s or other defined contribution plans.

If you have a child or children that are subject to a child custody order in Pennsylvania and are considering moving or relocating, you need to be aware of a child custody law that went into effect in January 2011, which requires that you obtain court approval for your move. The law provides for a mandatory notice that must be provided to the other parent and the factors that the court must consider in deciding whether to approve the move or relocation.

This is one of the most frequently asked questions here at Cooley & Handy. The shortest answer is that the average divorce in Pennsylvania takes two years. The more optimistic answer is that it all depends on you and your spouse.

Theoretically, you could be divorced in just over three months if the matter is simple and you are both extremely motivated – and cooperative. In Pennsylvania, there is a 90-day waiting period after the filing of a divorce complaint before you can apply for a divorce decree. So if you:

  1. file a divorce complaint and serve it on your spouse on day one;
  2. both file Affidavits of Consent and Waivers of Notice on day 91;
  3. file a praecipe for a decree on day 92;

and if the court promptly issues your decree, you could conceivably be divorced in about three months.

You may be unaware how unlikely all of this is.

In reality, four months – with the full, determined cooperation of both spouses and the court – is the shortest length of time to get a divorce in Pennsylvania.

Cooley & Handy has noticed that one of the biggest complicating factors to an efficient divorce is the spousal relationship. Each argument, each disagreement, each petition filed out of anger will add weeks if not months to the length of your divorce. Here are additional factors that add more time:

  • custody and custodial schedules;
  • the division of assets and property, including appraisals;
  • division of pensions, 401ks and retirement plans;
  • the determination of support and alimony.

When you add it all up, it is easy to see how the average divorce can take up to two years to process. And as we said, that is simply the average.


In Pennsylvania, there are three types of support that a party to a divorce might be ordered to pay a spouse: spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony. The difference between them primarily relates to the stage in the divorce process in which support is paid.

For instance, spousal support is paid to a spouse after separation but before a divorce is filed. Alimony pendente lite (APL) is paid to a spouse after a divorce is filed, but before the divorce is finalized. Alimony is paid to a spouse after the divorce is finalized.

The higher-earning party is always the person who pays spousal support, alimony pendente lite and/or alimony.

The first of these two types of support -- spousal support and APL -- are determined based on a strict mathematical formula.

Child support in Pennsylvania is calculated by a mathematical formula set forth in law.  There are, however, many nuisances to the formula, which are not discussed here.  The court may also deviate from the formula based on special or unusual circumstances.  However, in general, child support is calculated as set forth below. 

There are four main factors that affect the amount of child support payable.  Those factors are (1) the custodial schedule, (2) the number of children covered by the child support order, (3) the monthly after-tax incomes of the parties, and (4) certain additional expenses related to the children. 

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Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

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