What We Cover In This Article
Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives
While unique circumstances often surround divorces in general, Pennsylvania has rules, and procedures that must be followed for a successful dissolution.
Divorces call for adequate understanding of the process. The more you know, the easier the proceedings will be.
This guide will equip you with ample information on the different types of divorce, the grounds for divorce, and the process of filing for divorce in Pennsylvania.
Here are the things you need to know to start working through your divorce in Pennsylvania.
Types Of Divorce Laws in Pennsylvania
Every state has different laws and processes to follow. There are two divorce options available in Pennsylvania
To get an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania, you should agree with your spouse on all issues arising from the divorce process, such as alimony, child custody, and assets division.
Spouses divorcing through mutual consent don’t have to appear in court. Instead, they can work with divorce attorneys or hire a collaborative divorce attorney to draft separation agreement documents.
Uncontested divorce cases have the least difficulty and can be completed within three months.
Should any disagreement arise in the process, you have to start the process of a contested divorce.
Pros & Cons
If you qualify for an uncontested divorce, using an online divorce service is a great way to save a lot of money. Keep in mind in Pennsylvania, divorce can cost over $11,000 in fees if you file for divorce with an attorney.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
If both or one of the couples refuse to agree to the terms of divorce in Pennsylvania, the court gets involved, and it becomes a contested case.
A divorce case can also become contested if the spouses agree to a divorce but can't agree on the settlement terms.
Contested divorce cases usually take longer, cost more, or have more stress depending on the situation. The divorce can be based on fault grounds like adultery and conviction. These divorces can take a year or more to complete.
Pros & Cons
Residency Requirements in Pennsylvania
You must prove at least one spouse is a resident of the state of Pennsylvania to file a divorce complaint in a local family court. The Pennsylvania residency requirements are strict, and no couple is allowed to proceed with a divorce.
At least one of the parties must be a resident of the state of Pennsylvania for at least six months before the commencement of the divorce.
The court has jurisdiction over the case regardless of whether the cause of divorce took place outside the state and if the spouses were outside the state at the time. The court also can dissolve a marriage that was celebrated outside the state when the parties were not residing in the state.
If the spouses do not live in the same county, the plaintiff must file the papers in the country where the defendant lives. You can file in the county where you lived as spouses before the divorce, the county where you live provided your spouse agrees to it, or the county where your spouse lives.
Active duty service members can file in Pennsylvania if it is the state where they last resided for at least six months. In addition, military members can file in Pennsylvania if it is where they pay taxes or if their spouse lives in the state. They can also file in Pennsylvania if it is where they are stationed.
How Do You Prove Residency?
- The petitioner should provide a sworn statement to the court saying that you have resided in Pennsylvania for at least six months before the date of filing.
- Residency can be proved with a state identification document.
- Providing a copy of a Pennsylvania driver’s license.
- Providing an affidavit of a collaborating witness testifying about your residency is allowed.
How to Establish Residency
If you want to file for divorce in Pennsylvania and you don’t meet the residency requirements, you can establish residence by:
- Leasing or purchasing of a permanent Pennsylvania residence.
- Transferring bank accounts, automobile, stock, and other registered property to Pennsylvania.
- Registering to vote in the state.
- Acquiring a Pennsylvania driver’s license.
- Accepting full-time and permanent employment in Pennsylvania.
Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania
The state of Pennsylvania allows spouses to seek fault and no-fault divorces.
A no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania is based on mutual consent. The spouses must agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The parties are not guilty of severe marital misconduct in a no-fault divorce.
The divorce requires that the parties agree to the divorce or be separated for at least two years.
A fault divorce is based on one of the categories for grounds for divorce or marital misconduct below.
A spouse has grounds for divorce if the other party is convicted as principal or accessory and receives an imprisonment term of two or more years. As such, the conviction will cause a long-term separation which will cause the marriage to be unfunctional.
Another rationale for the ground of divorce is that the innocent spouse will suffer the moral injury of being married to a felon.
The ground of divorce is also justifiable by desertion caused by the conviction.
Abandonment or Willful Desertion
Abandonment of cohabitation with the offended spouse without a reasonable cause for at least one year constitutes willful desertion.
For the court to sustain a divorce for desertion, there must be an uninterrupted physical withdrawal for two years and evidence that the withdrawing spouse intends to desert.
Actual personal violence or conduct that enders the cohabitation of a couple unsafe constitutes cruelty. Wilful transmission of venereal disease is classified as cruelty.
Mental abuse that endangers the health of the offended spouse is also classified as cruelty and barbarous treatment.
Adultery in Pennsylvania is considered sexual relations of a married person with someone other than their spouse. Therefore, it is difficult to prove adultery through eyewitness testimony. Thus, the doctrine of inclination and opportunity is used to establish the circumstances.
This means you can be granted a divorce on the grounds if you have circumstantial evidence that your spouse had an opportunity and the disposition to commit adultery.
However, divorce will not be granted on this ground if neither opportunity nor inclination is shown, opportunity was shown without inclination, or inclination was shown without opportunity.
The court can grant a divorce to an innocent spouse where the other part entered into a second marriage knowingly while the first marriage is subsisting. Bigamy is a second-degree misdemeanor that can attract two years of imprisonment.
Indignities to the person
Mental or verbal abuse and poor treatment that makes the offended spouse’s life unbearable constitutes the ground of indignities.
Defenses to an adultery based divorce in Pennsylvania include:
The defense is used when the defendant proves that the plaintiff is equally at fault for committing adultery.
A defendant uses this defense to prove that their spouse forgave their infidelity in the past.
If the plaintiff approves or facilitates the other party to participate in infidelity, the defendant can use it as a defense.
Using a Pennsylvania Divorce Attorney
Divorcing spouses in Pennsylvania do not need a lawyer for a mutual consent divorce. Instead, the divorcing couples can sign the separation agreement and represent themselves.
However, a divorce attorney is still recommended to ensure all issues are settled correctly and nothing is left undone.
Spouses in a contested case should speak to a professional divorce attorney due to the complexity of contested divorces. The lawyer will help gather evidence to prove fault and represent you in a trial.
What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney?
Couples going through divorce hire attorneys to make the process easier. Competence is the last thing you want to worry about, and here are qualities to look for in a divorce attorney that will help you make decisions on issues surrounding the case.
Experience and skill
Look for an attorney that can represent you well. Your attorney should be skilled and knowledgeable to address the complexities of divorce cases.
Look for an attorney with vast experience with cases like yours. First, ask about the number of cases they have handled. Then, evaluate their credentials for knowledge in the field and experience in practicing divorce law.
Check their academic background and specialization and their licensing information to determine where they are allowed to practice. This way, you will establish if the divorce attorney can handle your case and understands Pennsylvania divorce laws.
A good lawyer will be available when you need them. The attorney should offer support in court or a matter outside the office. An available lawyer will give feedback promptly and provide a timeline for when they can complete an action.
Attorneys with enormous caseloads are unable to devote themselves entirely to your case.
Resources and support
A divorce attorney should have the necessary support and resources to handle your case effectively. When unavailable, they should have an associate to assist in the vent of an emergency.
They should have adequate resources to support the collection of evidence for a fault-based case. Choose an attorney that has support attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants.
Your attorney should be able to remain calm and work well under pressure. Even if frustrated, the attorney should exhibit self-control with the court and opposing counsel.
A composed lawyer can remain focused and represent your issues strongly amid challenges. They are also willing to adjust strategies to suit your needs.
Good communication skills
The divorce process involves a lot of back and forth discussions between the parties and the court. Therefore, your attorney needs to listen to your case, understand your needs and desires, and communicate them effectively with the court and opposing counsel.
Good listening skills, public speaking skills, confidence, and the ability to disseminate information accurately are critical to the divorce process.
Analytical and research skills
Preparation of divorce cases strategies can be complicated but yet critical to the success of the process. The grounds for divorce may involve large volumes of records and data. The case will also need the lawyer to explore and interpret issues carefully.
Being able to make sense out of data and legal questions is vital for a successful process.
The level of professionalism of your divorce attorney will determine the success of your case and the experience of the process. A professional attorney will meet deadlines on time, file paperwork correctly, and offer the best representation.
Divorce laws and cases and rigorous and high pressure. Thus, confidence is vital to impose the best representation and impression in court. Having a confident lawyer will also help you feel more optimistic about the outcome.
How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney
Keep the following in mind and you will find the best attorney for your case.
Ask for referrals
Recommendations from your family, colleagues, and friends can give you access to a credible and competent divorce attorney. In addition, research on the internet and read the reviews and testimonials from other clients to evaluate the suitability of a divorce attorney.
Conduct an interview
Interviews give you the chance to assess if a divorce lawyer is the right fit. Ask questions that will shed light on their experience, skills, confidence, and personality. The answers will help you decide if they are the right fit for your needs.
Consider the fees
Get information on the overall attorney fees, such as the retainer, billing rate, and custody cases fees. Check if there are additional expenses by requesting their fee structure.
This way, you hire an attorney you can afford, budget effectively for your divorce, and avoid surprises.
If you select a lawyer and along the way you feel they are not credible, you are allowed to change them even if your case is pending.
Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys
Always interview divorce lawyers before selecting a professional to represent you. Here are the interview questions to ask to get the right match.
What areas of law do you practice or specialize in?
The question will help you know if the attorney specializes in divorce law and has the necessary experience to represent you. Attorneys who practice in multiple law areas may not have the kind of expertise and experience you are looking for.
How many divorce cases have you handled?
When hiring a divorce attorney, you want a professional that has successfully handled similar cases before.
How many cases have you settled out of court?
Settling a divorce case out of court minimizes drama and shortens the time of completion of the case. The question intends to assess the lawyer’s ability to settle matters out of court for a less stressful process.
Are you familiar with the local court judges?
If the attorney is familiar with the judges, they can plan a better strategy for a desirable outcome.
Will you be handling my case or another lawyer in your firm?
The last thing you want is your case to be handed off to other attorneys in the firm without evaluating them. So before hiring the attorney, if you agree with their way of doing things, ensure they will be with you from the start to the end.
How will we be communicating?
You should be able to contact your lawyer if something urgent comes up. Asking this question will help you understand the flexibility in the communication channels and if they will be billed.
Do you have a heavy caseload?
This will help you determine if the lawyer will be devoted to your case or juggle many other matters.
What is your retainer and billing rate?
Most lawyers will provide this information without asking. However, it is essential to ask to determine if you can afford the attorney or keep looking.
Lawyers in Pennsylvania also charge by the hour. Ask for the total breakdown of the cost so you can plan your finances effectively.
How will you support me resolve my case?
This will help you determine if the lawyer is the perfect fit. Establish if the attorney is aggressive and would do well in the trial, or they are settlement-minded.
Tell me about yourself
Understanding the lawyer's personality will help you determine if you are a match and can work together.
Answers to the interview questions will help you identify an experienced attorney you are comfortable working with. Watch out for red flags like a massive caseload, support for conflicts, and the lack of experience handling divorce cases.
Is the Initial Consultation Free?
While the initial consultation fees vary with attorneys, most of them offer an initial free consultation. This gives the lawyer the chance to evaluate your case and determine if they can help you.
The sessions run for about half an hour to an hour, and it is crucial to have a list of your assets for the attorney to have an idea of the asset division strategy to employ.
Is the Meeting Confidential?
Everything you tell your divorce attorney, even during a consultation, is legally bound. Feel free to share personal and intimate details as the meeting will be confidential.
Pros of Using an Attorney
The key advantages of hiring a divorce lawyer are:
Divorce law is complicated
Divorce law is complex and features many essential details that you can easily miss and affect your case. More so, the language used in court orders differs from everyday usage. By hiring an attorney, you will have someone who understands the law, explain it to you, and apply it in your situation.
Support with navigating the courts
Filing the paperwork correctly with the right person and meeting deadlines can be challenging if you don’t have experience.
A divorce attorney is familiar with the proceedings and can follow the structured paperwork and submit the paperwork at the right time. This means that you don’t have to worry about the paperwork and court structures.
Support with making critical decisions
A divorce attorney will help you make critical decisions on issues arising from the divorce. In addition, a divorce lawyer will provide information that can help you make effective settlement decisions.
Protect your rights and help you get a fair settlement
Divorce attorneys understand the ins and outs of the divorce process in Pennsylvania. They know your rights and the settlement you are entitled to.
A good attorney will fight for and protect your rights and ensure a fair division of marital property.
Fast divorce process
The divorce process can take longer to complete. Hiring a lawyer will ensure the process is much smoother and takes a shorter time.
Access to resources you need for a successful case
By hiring a divorce attorney, you will get the resources and experts you need by your side. In addition, they will represent you in a trial and help you gather evidence to prove a fault.
Cons of Using an Attorney
The disadvantages of using an attorney for your divorce case are:
Hiring a divorce attorney is expensive. There are tons of costs involved, including retainer fees which may vary depending on the case's complexity. Before the verdict is reached, you might end up spending a lot.
Hiring a divorce attorney can be messy, especially if one party fails to inform the other that they will be working with an attorney. In addition, hiring a lawyer might read as a sign of distrust for your spouse.
By hiring a lawyer, your spouse might assume that you are taking serious legal action against them. This can damage your existing relationship with them.
Filing for Divorce in Pennsylvania
Below, we provide the details on how to file for divorce in the state of Pennsylvania, be it contested or uncontested.
Filing for an uncontested divorce
To file for a mutual consent divorce in Pennsylvania, you must settle divorce issues such as child custody, alimony, and division of marital assets and record the terms in a settlement agreement.
You can complete a mutual consent divorce in three or four months, but should you at any point disagree with your spouse on the terms, you will have to start the process of a contested divorce.
To file for an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania, you must meet the following requirements:
- Both parties must agree to the divorce
- The marriage must be irretrievably broken
- You or your spouse must meet the residency requirement of living in Pennsylvania for at least six months before the date of filing.
- You and your spouse must sign an affidavit agreeing to the divorce
You can file for an uncontested divorce whether you have children or not with your spouse. While all financial issues must be resolved before filing, child custody and support issues can be settled before filing or later.
The court cannot decide spousal support issues after the divorce.
To file for a mutual consent divorce in Pennsylvania, you must follow the below guidance.
Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.
Preparing Your Divorce Forms
Prepare the paperwork for an uncontested divorce by completing the following forms:
- Self-Represented Party Entry of Appearance
- Form 7 Notice of Intention to Request Entry of Section 3301(c) Divorce Decree and Counter-Affidavit under 3301(c)
- Form 5a Affidavit of Consent of Plaintiff
- Form 4 Praecipe to Reinstate the Complaint Instructions
- Form 15 Notice of Intention to Resume Prior Surname
- Form 6b Waiver of Notice for Defendant
- Form 10 Affidavit of Non-Military Service
- Form 11 Certificate of Service
- Form 12 Final Praecipe to Transmit Record
- Form 5b Affidavit of Consent of Defendant
- Form 6a Waiver of Notice for Plaintiff
- Form 1 Notice to Defend and Divorce Complaint
- Form 13 Divorce Decree
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Filing Your Divorce Forms
Once you complete the forms, file them with the prothonotary, the clerk’s office. You can also file the papers in the counties where either party lives or you agree with your spouse to file.
While filing the forms, you are required to pay a filing fee. If you are unable to raise the payment, you can request a waiver from the court by filing a form called an In Forma Pauperis petition from the clerk’s office.
Serving Your Spouse
You must deliver or serve your spouse with the divorce papers within 30 days after filing for divorce. If your spouse does not reside in Pennsylvania, there is a provision of additional 90 days.
You can serve the paperwork through the mail, personal service, or the county sheriff. The local county courthouse provides details on how the papers should be served.
Your spouse has the right to file a response after being served with the papers. Your spouse can contest issues of the divorce complaints if they disagree with the content. Should this happen, the divorce becomes contested.
If you receive a signed Acceptance of Service from your spouse, file a copy of it with the clerk.
If you have minor children with your spouse, the court might require you to attend a parenting class. However, this requirement varies with the counties.
Ninety days after the date of filing, you can sign the Affidavit of Consent to state that you and the other party agree to divorce. You will mail a copy to your spouse to sign and file the copies at the clerk of court after you receive the documents.
You will also file a Final Decree of Divorce and Praecipe to Transmit Record, among other forms required by the county.
Once you file the documents, the clerk forwards the case to the judge. After review, the judge will sign the Final Decree of Divorce, and the clerk’s office will send you certified copies to dissolve the marriage officially.
Once you file all the documents, the clerk will forward your case to the judge for review. After the judge signs, the Final Decree of Divorce, the clerk's office will send you and your spouse certified copies, and your divorce will be official.
In Pennsylvania, spouses must provide full financial disclosure at the beginning of the divorce process. This is done in the form of affidavits. All income, expenses, assets and liabilities must be specified.
Filing For a Contested Divorce
To file for a contested divorce in Pennsylvania, follow the following steps:
Preparing Your Divorce Forms
Here are the forms you may need to fill to file for a contested divorce in Pennsylvania.
- An affidavit to show the requirements for a contested divorce have been met.
- An affidavit of non-military service to state that the defendant does not work in the military.
- Notice of Intention to Request Entry of Divorce Decree and Counter-Affidavit.
Filing Your Divorce Forms
The plaintiff can commence with divorce by filing a complaint in the office where legal pleadings are filed.
The plaintiff is also required to pay a filing fee at this office unless they get a waiver. The plaintiff must complete all pages of the Divorce Complaint and Notice to Defend. After filling the forms, they should make two copies of the documents and take them to the pleadings office of the county they intend to file for divorce.
The office will then time-stamp the copies, and one will remain with the office and the other given to you. One of the stamped copies should be kept for your record, and the other served to your spouse.
Serving Your Spouse
Serve your spouse with one copy of the stamped documents within 30 days after the date of filing. The service requirement for spouses living outside Pennsylvania is extended to 90 days. Failure to complete the service within 30 days means the complaint must be reinstated and reserved.
Service of the Notice to Defend, Complaint, and Verification should be made by Acceptance of Service, Personal Service, or by regular and Certified Mail return receipt requested restricted delivery.
If service is not made on time, the plaintiff must file the Praecipe to reinstate the complaint. This provides the plaintiff with another 30 or 90 days to serve their spouse.
The spouses can mail the other party the Notice of Intention to file the Praecipe to transmit records. If the parties sign and file Waivers of Notice, the other party can proceed to file a Praecipe to Transmit Record and make two copies of it. This means the file can go to a judge.
However, if only one party signs and files the Waivers of Notice of Intention to File the Praecipe to Transmit the record, they must wait for 20 days to file the Praecipe.
After proper service of the papers, either party can file for a Final Praecipe to Transmit Record. The court may also require a proposed Divorce Decree.
The Divorce Decree will be mailed to the spouses if the paperwork has been filed correctly.
Financial disclosures for contested divorces work the same way as for uncontested divorces in the state of Pennsylvania.
Online Divorce in Pennsylvania
Filing for divorce in Pennsylvania online has several great benefits like cost savings and convenience.
Online divorce in Pennsylvania can help you complete a Pennsylvania divorce process faster through self-representation. Online divorce is a recommended solution for spouses that agree on the terms of a divorce and looking for efficiency.
Preparation of divorce papers in Pennsylvania can be done online from the comfort of your home.
Choose an online divorce service and fill a questionnaire to test if you qualify for an online divorce.
Provide case details such as your full names, date of birth, address, financial data, employment information, and information on personal assets. Custom divorce forms will be generated, printed, and mailed to you.
Get your papers
You will get your divorce papers and your spouse’s signature and file them with your local court clerk. Some of the divorce documents you will get include a Divorce Decree, Affidavit of Consent, Notice to Defend and Divorce Complaint, Self Represented Party Entry of Appearance, and an Affidavit of Non-Military Service.
Finalize the divorce
The judge will complete the process by reviewing the divorce agreement and giving a verdict.
How To Qualify for an Online Divorce in Pennsylvania
To be able to file an online divorce, the plaintiff must meet the state's residency requirements and you must be filing an uncontested divorce. In addition, either spouse must have stayed in Pennsylvania for at least six months before the filing date.
Do You Still Need To Go to Court?
After filing an online divorce, you can have a hearing by deposition or affidavit or an in-person hearing in court. There is a 9- day waiting period after you file for divorce to serve your partner.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in Pennsylvania?
The duration of getting a divorce in Pennsylvania depends on the case's complexity and how you file for divorce.
Timeline For Uncontested No-Fault Divorce
Spouses getting a mutual consent divorce must admit and agree that their marriage is irretrievably broken and wait a minimum of 90 days after the date of filing for the marriage dissolution to be completed by the court.
No-fault divorce types like a separation divorce depend on how fast your spouse is served after staying apart for at least a year. Usually, it takes 4-16 weeks for the marriage to be dissolved.
The marriage ends as soon as the judge signs the Decree of Divorce.
Timeline For a Contested Divorce
A contested divorce occurs when spouses don’t agree on one or all issues arising from the divorce, such as spousal support and division of marital assets. While an uncontested divorce may take 4-6 months to complete, a contested divorce can take up to a year, depending on whether it is a fault or no-fault case.
Since they take longer, they tend to be more stressful and costlier.
Timeline For Fault-Based Divorce in Pennsylvania
Fault-based divorce in Pennsylvania occurs on grounds such as cruelty, abandonment, felony conviction, and adultery.
The plaintiff must provide extensive evidence to prove the fault which makes the process lengthy and costly. However, a fault-based divorce can be filed faster than the no-fault divorce cases that require a minimum of six months separation periods.
The completion timeline depends on how fast and easily you can prove that your spouse is at fault.
Tips To Shorten the Divorce Timeline
While some divorces cases may take up to a year and others less, there are ways you can speed up the process. Here are some tips.
- Review the different types of divorce – a mutual consent divorce takes a shorter time to complete than a fault-based divorce. Understanding the different options available will help you choose an option that has less back and forth. If possible, leverage an uncontested divorce or mediation out of court for faster marriage dissolution.
- Work with an attorney – hiring an attorney to guide you through the process saves you time. In addition, they understand the divorce laws and the patterns and structures of the proceedings. A divorce attorney can advise on the best course of action and help you with the paperwork. They can also mediate and negotiate on your behalf.
- Prepare – preparation before filing for divorce will make the process faster. For instance, ensure you meet the separation requirements before filing to avoid the back and forth. List all the financial information required for the process, and if it is a fault-based case, have evidence.
- Avoid battles – avoiding needless battles will shorten the process. For instance, there is no need to fight for full custody in a child custody case if your spouse is also fit to parent.
- Save money – lack of funds can slow down the divorce process. You will need money for attorney fees, filing fees, and service fees. Get a breakdown of the total cost of divorce so that you can budget and avoid interruptions in the process.
Divorce Costs in Pennsylvania
One thing you want to do when preparing for divorce is the overall cost. The costs constitute filing fees, attorney fees, mediation fees, and in some cases, parent education classes fees.
The complexity and type of your case determine the cost of your divorce. The attorney fees also affect the overall cost of the process.
To avoid stress and delays in finalizing your divorce, it is critical to estimate the overall costs to help you prepare in advance and evaluate your options.
The Cost of a Contested Divorce Vs. An Uncontested Divorce
A contested divorce is expensive because of disputes. For example, in Pennsylvania, you may end up paying between $15,000 and $30,000. The cost comprises attorney’s fees, discovery process expenses, parent education classes, and court fees, among other expenses.
An uncontested divorce is less expensive, and the overall cost can be between $3300 and $6300. That is a minimum of $300 in court fees and $3000 in attorney’s fees.
Uncontested divorce court fees range between $300 and $400. However, the court fees for a contested case in Pennsylvania may fall between $300 and $800, depending on the case's complexity. If you are unable to pay the court fees, you can request a waiver.
The court fees vary with the counties you are filing the divorce.
Divorce attorney fees for a contested case in Pennsylvania include initial consultation fees, retainer fees, hourly rate, child custody hearing, and evaluations and discovery process.
Going through a contested divorce could cost you between $15,000 and $30,000. On the other hand, an uncontested case can cost $4,000 or even $500 if you file the paperwork yourself.
Contested divorce attorney fees are higher since more time and resources are spent on the case.
Pennsylvania divorce attorneys have an hourly rate of about $300. In addition, their retainer fee is $3,500 and an average of $4,000 for the discovery process.
The filing fee for a contested and uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania is $300 and may attract an additional $150 to $1,500 if you leverage online support.
The overall litigation fees for an uncontested divorce are between $3,300 and $6,300. A contested divorce litigation fee is $12,000o and could go over $20,000 if children are involved.
Mediation (Reduce Costs)
The average mediation cost of divorce mediation in Pennsylvania is around $5000- $8000. The fee may constitute between one and four sessions, preparation of the settlement agreement, and the cost of filing the paperwork.
Online Divorce Service
An online divorce service company will charge a fee between $150- $1,500.
Factors That Affect the Cost of Divorce in Pennsylvania
The cost of divorce in Pennsylvania depends on several factors.
Factors that will increase the cost of divorce include:
- Non-consent from the spouses – a contested divorce means more court appearances, more demand on time, and resources like an attorney. This makes the process expensive.
- Alimony disputes – if you have disputes on spousal support, you will spend more time in court and require the aid of an attorney, which results in high costs.
- Having children – if you have children with your spouse, the cost of divorce may be higher. In addition, custody and child support battles will incur high attorney fees. You may also have to pay for expert witnesses such as psychologists regarding the child’s mental health and other issues related to child care.
- High net worth/ marital assets – many assets may result in complex asset division needs that call for more attorney and court hours. If you have tons of real estate property, financial accounts, and investments, you may also have to hire a financial analyst to evaluate and list the value of the assets.
- Attorney costs – the attorney you hire will impact the overall cost of the divorce. An inefficient attorney can drag the process costing you more court and hourly attorney fees.
Ways to lower the cost of your divorce:
- Leverage paralegals and associates – hiring a partner to represent you can make your divorce expensive. However, paralegals and associates charge lower hourly rates and can be equally effective.
- Choose your approach wisely – if you agree with your spouse on the settlement, consider an uncontested divorce as it is less expensive. Then, instead of going to trial, leverage mediation to address the marital settlement issues.
- Prepare – preparation and organization can reduce the cost of divorce. For instance, organizing your financial records will eliminate the need to hire an expert to do it.
- Avoid battles with your spouse – compromise and agree to disagree on some demands from your spouse to avoid unnecessary court hours and attorney fees.
- Use cost-effective communication – communication with your attorney may be billed per hour. Choose cost-effective communication channels to reduce the hourly fees.
- Educate yourself – learn as much as you can about the laws surrounding your situation. This way, you will reduce the time your attorney will take to educate you and hence the fees. In addition, you can research Pennsylvania divorce laws through the internet or your local library.
- Avoid litigation – go to court only if it is the last resort. This will save you both court and attorney hours. Instead, consider options like collaborative divorce, mediation, or settlement conferences.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Custody Considerations in Pennsylvania
If spouses cannot agree on child custody, the court orders different custody forms, considering the child’s best interest. The court requires information on various family dynamics like the parents' health and their relationship with the child to make custodial decisions.
Types Of Custody
The two main types of custody in Pennsylvania are physical custody and legal custody.
A judge can make the following awards for physical custody:
- Shared physical custody – the other party can share physical custody with the custodial parent or can have supervised custody. Supervised custody is awarded when there are concerns about the child’s safety in a parent’s care. The custody order may assign a third party to oversee the visits. The order can also dictate the time and place of visitation. In most cases, the court awards supervised custody when the parent is working to rebuild a relationship with the child. However, with time the order can change and the supervised visits reduced or replaced with traditional visitation.
- Primary physical custody – the parent with primary custody lives with the child.
- Partial physical custody – in partial physical custody, both parents have an equal amount of time with the child. However, it does not always require the parents to have equal parenting time.
Legal custody gives the parents the right to control and make decisions on the child’s behalf. That is religious, medical, and legal decisions. The parents can share legal custody, or the court can award one parent the sole right to control and make decisions on behalf of the child.
Standards Used to Determine the Best Interest of the Child
Here are the custody factors considered by courts in Pennsylvania when awarding custody:
- The mental and physical condition of the parent.
- The ability of the parties to cooperate.
- History of drug or substance abuse and violence.
- The relationship of the child with their siblings.
- The child’s preference, based on their judgment and maturity.
- The ability of the parents to maintain a stable, nurturing, and loving relationship with the child.
- The child’s special needs and the ability of the parents to cater to them.
- Availability of the parents for childcare or their ability to make child care arrangements.
- The proximity of the parents.
- The parent’s current role in the child’s day-to-day care.
- The need for the child’s stability in community life, education, and family life.
- Which party is likely to permit and support contact and visitation between the child and the other parent.
When Is Child Custody Decided?
After evaluating the considerations of the children's best interests, the court decides the type of custody of the parties.
If the parties have no agreement on the custody arrangement, the court decides after a hearing where both parties produce evidence to fight for custody.
Custody in Pennsylvania does not depend on gender. Provided the party is fit, they can get custody. The custody order binds the parties until the judge modifies it.
Modification Of Custody
Custody orders in Pennsylvania are designed to last until the child turns 18. However, circumstances usually change, leading to the modification of the court order. Parents are allowed to seek the modification of the order if it serves the child’s best interests.
You can petition for modification of custody order in court or settle the matter out of court. Then, the parties can agree to the terms, draft a new agreement and submit the changes to the court for review.
Common circumstances that may require the modification of the court order include:
- Change in lifestyle – lifestyle change could include a change in a parent’s working hours, parents pursuing education, and things such as criminal offenses and substance abuse.
- The relocation of a parent – The custodial parent is not usually allowed to relocate further away from the other parent unless necessary or involuntary.
- Change in the needs or relationship of the child with the parent
Can You File for Custody?
You can file for child custody in Pennsylvania if the child has lived in the state for at least six months before the date of filing. The filing cost is about $107, and it may attract an extra $42 in case of emergency custody.
The process involved filling paperwork like a Complaint of Custody, Confidential Information Form, Notice to Defend, Certificate of Compliance, and the Scheduling Order. Once you pay the fee, the court will open the case, and the other parent served with the papers.
The next step is the court process, where a judge will decide custody after hearing and evaluating your complaint.
Child Support Considerations in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania laws require that both parents offer financial support to their children. One parent is required to make monthly financial contributions to raise the child. The law assumes that the custodial parent already spends money directly on the child.
Pennsylvania, child support guidelines, determine the child support award, and the court uses the following considerations to determine the amount of contribution.
- Unusual fixed obligations and needs
- The monthly net income of the parties
- The child’s age
- The health insurance cost of the child and other medical expenses that are not covered by insurance
- The relative liabilities and assets of the parents
- Standard of living
- Custodial arrangements between the parties
Eligibility Of Child Support in Pennsylvania
The custodial parent will receive child support:
- If the child is below 18 years, still in high school, or lives at home.
- If the child is beyond 18 years old and unable to support themselves financially due to disability
Parent Exemptions for Paying Child Support
Exemptions from presumptive minimum child support include:
- The lack of sufficient financial assets renders the parent unable to pay support
- Institutionalization of a parent
- Conviction of a parent for a felony
- Permanently disabled and unable to generate income
Factors That Can Influence Child Support
The following are factors that can influence child support decisions.
Increase child support
- The child’s standard of living before the divorce. The party paying support will pay support that can maintain the standard of living.
- If the party paying support has a high income.
- Custodial arrangements like visitation can attract travel costs and increase the overall child support.
- Debt from the marriage that was used for the child’s medical and educational benefit.
- Dependency of single mothers.
- Special needs of a child caused by an existing physical, mental, or medical condition.
Reduce child support
- Changes in the income of the parent paying support resulting from a job loss or disability can reduce the child support.
- Changes in custody arrangements can reduce child support paid.
- Changes in the cost of living, like a significant increase in the health insurance cost, can lower the monthly support payment.
- A child support order can be modified if circumstances such as income change.
What Is Included in The Child Support Order?
In Pennsylvania, a support order includes education expenses, monetary support for food, clothing, and shelter, health insurance and medical expenses, childcare expenses, and basic travel costs.
Alimony Considerations in Pennsylvania
Alimony in Pennsylvania is not guaranteed unless you are eligible for financial support. In Pennsylvania, the court can order alimony after the Decree of Divorce if necessary, and the alimony awarded is part of your Divorce Decree.
Spousal support issues when parties married for a significant length of time have a substantial income gap. Therefore, spousal support in Pennsylvania is only awarded to eligible parties.
Eligibility for Spousal Support in Pennsylvania
The state of Pennsylvania does not discriminate against gender when determining alimony. However, the party seeking support must prove financial need to qualify for spousal support.
Types of Alimony in Pennsylvania
The three main types of alimony in Pennsylvania are:
- Rehabilitative Alimony – rehabilitative alimony IS temporary financial support for a specified time while a spouse completes rehabilitation such as school and training, which will help them financially sustainable.
- Permanent Alimony – permanent alimony is provided throughout the recipients’ life, or until they remarry.
- Reimbursement Alimony – reimbursement alimony is awarded to the recipient for payments made on behalf of the other party, such as debt, medical bills, and education.
Considerations Made by the Court Before Awarding Alimony
The court uses Pennsylvania alimony guidelines and considerations to determine alimony factors such as the nature, amount, duration, and the pattern of alimony payments. Here are the elements:
- The relative standard of living set during the marriage. This is to decide the nature and amount of alimony to support a realistic life change after the marriage is dissolved.
- Duration of the marriage.
- The current earnings and earning capacities of the spouses.
- Sources of income
- The grounds of divorce or marital misconduct of the parties.
- The assets brought into the marriage by the parties.
- Contribution of the parties as homemakers.
- Age of the parties.
- The mental and physical condition of the parties.
- The ability of the party whom spousal support is sought to meet both their needs and those of their spouse.
Factors That Can Impact Alimony Payment in Pennsylvania
- Relative living standards – if high living standards were established during the marriage, the party seeking alimony is likely to get high spousal support.
- Financial assets – the financial needs of the spouse seeking alimony will determine the amount of alimony ordered by the court. More so, the ability of the party whose support is being sought to pay alimony and meet their needs will determine the amount the court will award. Spouses with more rewarding careers are also likely to pay high alimony.
- Duration of marriage – recipients from a long-standing marriage are likely to receive a large amount of alimony.
- Parenting responsibilities – custodial parents with sole child custody may receive permanent alimony and a large alimony amount.
- Grounds of divorce – grounds for divorce are often used by the court to determine the alimony amount. For example, if the spouse seeking alimony committed adultery, they may not get alimony. On the other hand, if the spouse from whom alimony is being sought committed adultery, they may end up paying a significant amount.
- Age – younger recipients usually get rehabilitative alimony since they are capable of supporting themselves financially in the long run. However, the court has to consider their employability, skills, and education to make a decision.
Division of Assets
The state of Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. Therefore, asset division is based on the court’s determination of what is deemed fair.
Separate vs. Marital Property in Pennsylvania
During a divorce, there is a need for clarity on what constitutes individual and shared assets.
Separate property in Pennsylvania includes:
- Property acquired before the marriage
- Assets received as inheritance or gift during the marriage with the exemption of gifts exchanged by the spouses.
- Property acquired after separation of the spouses.
- Assets excluded from the marital estates by prenuptial or postnuptial agreements.
- Assets received as an award for settlements such as personal injury.
- Specific veteran benefits in active service members cases.
If the value of separate assets increases during the marriage, the court considers the increase as marital property.
Marital property in Pennsylvania includes real estate, vehicles, and earnings acquired during the spouses' marriage.
Considerations Made for Fair and Equitable Division of Property
The state of Pennsylvania court uses the following considerations to decide the division of assets during a divorce:
- The length of the marriage
- Whether either party was married before.
- The economic status of the parties at the time of the division of the assets.
- Tax consequences.
- The spouses' employability.
- The spouses’ age and health.
- The role of the spouses in the acquisition of the assets.
- The standards of living established during the marriage.
- The custodial rights of the spouses if they have children.
- Contribution of the parties to the training, education, or the increased earning power of the other.
How Can a Divorcing Couple in Pennsylvania Divide Assets on Their Own?
A divorcing couple has an opportunity to decide the division of their assets without the intervention of the court. However, the divorcing spouses have to file a proposed settlement agreement with the court for the judge to give a verdict.
The Court Process for The Division of Assets in Pennsylvania
If a divorcing couple has to involve the court for property division through trial, they must go through a four-step equitable division of assets.
- Identification of assets – The couple must identify all their assets regardless of whether they are marital or separate. Then, they have to create an itemized list of property owned by both parties. This could be real estate, vehicles, financial investments, and even liabilities.
- Categorize the assets – Everything should be classified and categorized to help the court determine separate and marital assets.
- Value the assets – The couple should value all the assets in the list. The court will then attach the fair market value of the assets. The court will use the net worth of the spouses to decide on an equitable award. During the valuation process, you should agree with your spouse on the value of the listed assets. The trial process involves convincing the court that the assets are worth the value you claim.
- Division of property – With this information and equitable division of assets considerations in mind, the court will distribute the assets. The parties have the opportunity to rebuttal the court’s decision if they deem the division inequitable.
Common Properties to Value
Below are the details on the valuation of common properties when getting a divorce.
If you own real estate, you can hire an expert to attach the value of the property. An appraiser will use factors such as the previous property tax information to determine the current or market value of the assets.
401k, IRA, Investments
401k, IRA, and Investments in Pennsylvania contributed during the marriage are considered marital assets. However, they can be exempted if there is an existing prenuptial agreement.
Stock investments and value retirement plans are used by the court to determine the distribution of the accounts.
The division of the contribution plans is based on the duration of the marriage. So, for instance, if your spouse had the account for 20 years at the time of the divorce, but you were married for seven years, only seven years' contribution will be divided as a marital asset.
The courts use the business's intrinsic value, such as the assets' worth, to determine the division. If one spouse helped in the company's running, they might be entitled to a percentage of the business.
The spouse owning the venture does not have to share the operating power or sell the business. Instead, the court can determine a payment equal to the company's value the other partner is entitled to.
Assets like art, tickets, pets, and sports memorabilia classified as marital property are divided like other marital assets.
Common-Law Marriage Considerations in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is no longer a common-law marriage state as it was abolished on January 2, 2005. However, this means that the state only recognizes common-law marriages entered before January 2, 2005.
The state of Pennsylvania will also recognize common-law marriages established in other jurisdictions for divorce.
How to Prove Common-Law Marriage
To file for a divorce for a common-law marriage in Pennsylvania, a couple must prove its existence through clear and convincing evidence. The spouses must establish two main elements to prove the existence of the marriage:
- Capacity – To establish capacity, a couple must prove that they are of the opposite sex, at least 18-years old, and unmarried.
- Present intent to enter into marriage – You must prove that you exchanged words with the intent of creating a legal relationship.
Other evidence used includes proof that the parties lived together and collaborative testimonies from friends and family. In addition, beneficiary designation in insurance policies, filing “married” tax returns, and job credit applications are helpful evidence.
Alternatives to Divorce in Pennsylvania
The divorce process is daunting and can have a toll on your emotional and mental well-being. Spouses that don’t want a divorce can consider other alternative options to consider like annulment, counseling, open marriage and
Considering alternatives to divorce could result in reconciliation and time and cost savings. The common alternatives to divorce include legal separation, annulment, working it out together, counseling, open marriage, and parenting marriage.
Annulment in Pennsylvania declares a marriage invalid through a court order. Couples who seek annulment do it for personal and religious reasons to avoid a divorce. To obtain an annulment in Pennsylvania, you must prove the following grounds:
- You got into a common-law marriage while under age 18
- Inability to consent to the marriage due to mental incompetence or incapacity
- Marriage was established under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Marriage consent was acquired by coercion, fraud, or duress
- Spouse is unable to engage in sexual relations
To obtain an annulment in Pennsylvania, you must meet the residency requirement of residing in the state for at least six months before the date of filing. In addition, for an annulment to be completed, you must prove at least one of the grounds in court.
The process requires the plaintiff to file paperwork with the court and schedule a hearing.
Annulment in Pennsylvania does not affect child support or custody.
Work It Out Together
Often, it is usually a better choice to work out a marriage than get a divorce. For example, if there is no severe marital misconduct, couples should work through their differences.
If they are on the same page regarding parenting, their future, and their kids, and they both want to save the marriage, a divorce is unnecessary.
Couples can give themselves time and improve their communication to make their marriage better. Other strategies include giving each other space, sharing their expectations, working on their wellness, embracing forgiveness, and respecting each other.
Counseling is an alternative option to divorce for couples in Pennsylvania. Often, infidelity, prolonged fights, and unresolved conflicts may lead couples to think they should end their marriage.
Counseling helps to open communication to help them resolve issues effectively. It also facilitates healing after infidelity by rebuilding trust and increasing the self-esteem of the offended party.
Counseling also helps couples open up and resolve underlying issues that may be straining their marriage. It also helps couples that are struggling with intimacy to spark their connection.
Through counseling, couples can unlock their emotional intelligence and be able to choose their battles. In addition, this helps spouses to enhance their problem-solving skills.
No matter how broken your marriage seems to be, counseling will help you fix it and avoid the stressful and heartbreaking divorce process.
Considering a divorce can really take an emotional toll on even the strongest people.
If you are in need of therapy with both privacy and convenience, we recommend Online-Therapy.com. Their incredible service gives you access to instant professional help, on any device, wherever you are in the world.
The only legally accepted marriage in Pennsylvania is monogamy. However, in an attempt to save their marriages and avoid divorce, couples opt for open marriages by agreeing to have romantic relationships with people other than their spouses.
The state of Pennsylvania does not consider open marriages illegal as spouses are consenting adults and are allowed to make agreements within their marriages.
It is a way to redeem your sex life and address the sexual needs of your partner that you are unable to handle. It also lifts the pressure off the couples to meet their spouses’ needs. This can help a marriage if such pressure is a source of conflict.
Can Open Marriage Affect Divorce?
If a couple agrees to an open marriage, they can’t use it as a ground or defense for a fault-based divorce. More so, the defendant can use connivance as a defense for a divorce based on adultery.
Some spouses prefer parenting marriages to keep their families intact. The arrangement is for couples who want to raise their children together without having a romantic relationship.
Just like open marriages, parenting marriages are not illegal in Pennsylvania. However, the spouses must agree to create a suitable environment to raise their children and exhibit acceptable conduct for a successful marriage.
Other issues to discuss include living arrangements and financial commitments. Planning, trust, and communication are critical to ensuring cooperation in a parenting marriage.
This alternative may not be easy for a couple, but it delivers significant benefits for the family.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.