Divorce in Pennsylvania is conducted as a civil action, with one party, Plaintiff, filing a Complaint for Divorce, and the other party being named as a Defendant.
To file for divorce in Pennsylvania, one or both of the spouses must have lived in the state for at least six months.
The Plaintiff, may file the Complaint for Divorce or a Petition for Annulment with the Prothonotary in the county in which either spouse resides or upon which both parties have agreed either in writing or by participating in the proceeding.
The Plaintiff must notify the Defendant of the divorce complaint by serving him/her.
Any person who is a party in a divorce action may, at any time prior to or subsequent to the entry of a divorce decree, resume any prior surname used by him/her by filing a written notice to this effect in the office of the prothonotary of the county in which the divorce action was filed or the decree of divorce was entered.
The court may grant a divorce for the following no-fault grounds.
When mutual consent is the ground for divorce, the court will require up to a maximum of three counseling sessions within the 90 days following the commencement of the divorce action, if either party requests it.
When the hearing for a complaint that a marriage is irretrievably broken has been held and the court determines that there is a reasonable prospect of reconciliation, the court shall continue the matter for up to 120 days, but not less than 90 days, unless the parties agree to a longer period. During this continuation period, if either party requests it, the court will require up to a maximum of three counseling sessions. The court may also require the counseling sessions when the couple has at least one child younger than 16 years of age.
Pennsylvania courts may grant a divorce to the innocent and injured spouse when it is determined that the other spouse is guilty of any of the following conduct:
When indignities is the ground for divorce, the court will require up to a maximum of three counseling sessions, if either party requests it.
Either party may seek an annulment for a marriage that is by law void or may be declared invalid by a court.
Grounds for annulment of void marriages:
As long as the couple has not cohabitated following the removal of an impediment, the supposed or alleged marriage of a person shall be deemed void in the following situations:
Purported common-law marriage:
Pennsylvania abolished common law marriages in 2005. Common law marriages contracted prior to January 2, 2005 generally remain valid. Therefore, common-law marriages are now referred to as "purported" or alleged.
Grounds for annulment of voidable marriages:
The marriage of a person shall be deemed voidable and subject to annulment in the following situations:
When the validity of a marriage is denied or doubted, either or both parties to the marriage may bring an action for a court judgment regarding the validity, or invalidity of the marriage, and the marriage may then be declared valid or invalid by decree of the court.
Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. Upon request of either party in an action for divorce or annulment, the court shall equitably and fairly divide, distribute or assign the marital property between the parties, without regard to marital misconduct, in such percentages and in such manner as the court deems fair after consideration of all factors.
Marital property refers to all property acquired by either spouse during the marriage and the increase in value of any non-marital property acquired prior to marriage, in exchange for property acquired prior to the marriage, or by gift (except between spouses), bequest, devise or descent, or in exchange for such property.
All real or personal property acquired by either party during the marriage is presumed to be marital property regardless of whether title is held individually or by the parties in some form of co-ownership, such as joint tenancy, tenancy in common, or tenancy by the entirety.
Non-marital or separate property includes the following:
Factors which are relevant for the determination of equitable division of marital property include the following:
While an action is pending, the court may award to one or both of the parties the right to reside in the marital residence.
The court can direct the continued maintenance and beneficiary designations of existing life and/or health insurance policies of either party, which were originally purchased during the marriage and owned by or within the effective control of either party. And if the court deems it necessary to protect the interests of a party, it may also direct the purchase of, and beneficiary designations on, a policy insuring the life or health of either party.
Where a divorce decree has been entered, the court may allow alimony, as it deems reasonable, to either party only if it finds alimony is necessary.
When determining whether alimony is necessary, as well as the nature, amount, duration and manner of payment, the court shall consider the following criteria:
The court may impose a lien or charge upon property of a party as security for the payment of alimony or any other award for the other party.
An alimony award may be modified, suspended, terminated or reinstituted upon changed circumstances of either party of a substantial and continuing nature. If the receiving party remarries, his/her alimony will end.
It is Pennsylvania public policy, when in the best interest of the child, to assure a reasonable and continuing contact of the child(ren) with both parents after a separation or dissolution of marriage and the sharing of the rights and responsibilities of child rearing by both parents and continuing contact of the child(ren) with grandparents when a parent is deceased, divorced or separated.
In making an order for custody, partial custody or visitation, the court shall consider the following factors:
No court shall award custody, partial custody or visitation to a parent who has been convicted of murder of the other parent of the child, unless the child is of suitable age and consents to the order.
The court shall award sole custody when it is in the best interest of the child(ren). Shared custody will only be awarded if one or both parents apply for it, or when the parents have agreed to shared custody, or in the court's discretion, and as long as it is in the best interest of the child.
The court may require the parents to attend counseling sessions and may consider the recommendations of the counselors prior to awarding sole or shared custody.
Parents are liable for the support of their children who are unemancipated and 18 years of age or younger. In some cases, parents may be liable for the support of their children who are older than 18 years of age.
Pennsylvania uses the Income Shares Model for calculating child support and it is awarded pursuant to a statewide guideline which shall be reviewed at least once every four years. These guidelines are based upon the reasonable needs of the child and the ability of the parent to provide support. In determining this, the guidelines shall place primary emphasis on the net incomes and earning capacities of the parents, with allowable deviations for unusual needs, extraordinary expenses and other factors, such as the parents' assets, as warrant special attention.
In every proceeding to establish child support, the court shall ascertain the ability of each parent to provide medical support for their child(ren), and the order shall include a requirement for medical support to be provided by either or both parents, as long as it is accessible to the child(ren). If medical support is available at a reasonable cost to a non-custodial parent, the court shall require that he/she provide that medical support to the child(ren).
A court may also order either or both parents to provide equitably for educational costs of their child(ren) whether an application for this support is made before or after the child(ren) has reached 18 years of age. The responsibility to provide for postsecondary educational expenses is a shared responsibility between both parents.
Pennsylvania does not recognize Legal Separation. However if a couple chooses to separate, whether they intend to divorce or not, they may enter into a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement to provide for division of real estate and personal property; support for the spouse and children, if applicable; responsibility for debts and legal fees; health and life insurance arrangements; and custody and visitation of any minor children.
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