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Pennsylvania

Grounds for Divorce Under Pennsylvania Divorce Laws

Actionable grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania are as follows:

  • Willful and malicious desertion for a period of one or more years
  • Adultery
  • Cruel and barbaric treatment that endangers the life or health of the innocent spouse
  • Bigamy
  • Imprisonment for two or more years
  • Indignities to the innocent spouse as to render that spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome
  • Institutionalization in mental institution for at least 18 months

A divorce based on an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage may be awarded two separate ways. First, if the parties allege that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown and both parties file an affidavit consenting to the divorce. The court may award a divorce after 90 days have elapsed from the date of commencement of the proceeding. 

Second, if one of the parties alleges that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown and the filing party files an affidavit stating that the spouses have lived separate and apart for at least two years, and the defendant either does not deny the allegations set forth in the affidavit or denies one or more of the allegations but the court determines the allegations to be true, the court may enter a decree of divorce.

Residency Requirements

Pennsylvania divorce laws state that at least one of the two of you must be a resident of the state of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to filing.

Venue

You may file for divorce in the county where either one of you resides, or in any county, if you have both agreed in writing or participated in the proceedings together.

Name of Court and Title of Action/Parties

An action for divorce in Pennsylvania is filed in the Court of Common Pleas. The person who is filing for divorce is called the Plaintiff and the other person is called the Defendant. The document that begins the divorce process is the Complaint for Divorce and the document required to finalize the divorce is called the Decree of Divorce.

Counseling or Mediation Requirements

If the court deems it necessary and useful, it may order you to attend an orientation session explaining the process of mediation, after which you may have the option to attend mediation or the court may order you to mediate certain issues.

In any case involving domestic violence or child abuse, the court may not order any orientation or mediation.

Distribution of Property

Pennsylvania divorce laws call for equitable distribution of marital assets. If possible, you should always attempt to reach an agreement with your spouse over everything from distribution of property and other things (such as alimony, child support, custody, etc.).

If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement,  the court will attempt to divide any marital property fairly between you. When considering the best way to distribute this property, the court will consider many factors, including, but not limited to the following:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Any prior marriage of either party
  • The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party
  • The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income
  • The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits
  • The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker
  • The value of the property set apart to each party
  • The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage
  • The economic circumstances of each party, including Federal, State and local tax ramifications, at the time the division of property is to become effective
  • Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children

Alimony

Alimony is decided on a case-by-case basis, according to Pennsylvania divorce laws, and may be awarded to either party depending on the circumstances of the divorce. The court will award alimony only when it is deemed necessary.

When deciding whether issuing an order for alimony payments – as well as the type, amount, and duration of the alimony payments – the courts shall consider all relevant factors including but not limited to the following:

  • The relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties
  • The ages and the health of the parties
  • The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits
  • The expectancies and inheritances of the parties
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party
  • The extent to which the earning power, expenses or financial obligations of a party will be affected by reason of serving as the custodian of a minor child
  • The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage
  • The relative education of the parties and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment
  • The relative assets and liabilities of the parties
  • The property brought to the marriage by either party
  • The contribution of a spouse as homemaker
  • The relative needs of the parties
  • The marital misconduct of either of the parties during the marriage
  • Any tax ramifications of the alimony award
  • Whether the party seeking alimony lacks sufficient property to provide for the party’s reasonable needs
  • Whether the party seeking alimony is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment

Duration of alimony may be temporary or permanent and the court will decide on this matter based on what they find to be most reasonable under the circumstances.

Child Custody

When minor children are involved in a divorce, Pennsylvania divorce laws call for the court to do everything possible to help lessen the emotional trauma children experience. If the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding the issues involving the children, the court will establish the custody order at its discretion.

When deciding on the matter of child custody, partial custody or visitation – the court shall consider, among other factors – which one of you will be more likely to encourage and allow the child or children to maintain contact with the other parent.

The court will also consider any violent or abusive behavior – past or present – of all adults in the household.

Child Support

In the state of Pennsylvania, child support is determined by a set of guidelines, which take into consideration the income of both parents and the needs of the child/children.

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