What do I Need to Know about Divorce

In each state divorce is based on that state’s statutory enactment and case law.  There is no federal law which applies to all parts of the country.

In Pennsylvania, to qualify for a divorce, an individual needs to establish residency which normally requires six months of living in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Divorce can be obtained in any county of the Commonwealth if the parties do not dispute the jurisdiction of the court.  If a dispute occurs as to in which county a divorce should be filed in, the divorce can be filed by the Plaintiff in the county where the Defendant lives or the county that is most convenient for the parties.

Pennsylvania recognizes both “fault” and “no-fault” divorce.  A no-fault divorce occurs when both parties consent.  If a divorce is pending for two years after service and consent has not been obtained, a no-fault divorce can be based upon a two year separation.  There are six grounds for fault, the most common being that an “innocent and injured” spouse has suffered “indignities”.  Other grounds include adultery, desertion, bigamy, certain types of imprisonment, etc.

The costs of a divorce is case dependent.  That is, it depends on the issues and time the case will take.  One thing about a divorce which is not true of many legal services is that how long it will take and how much effort must be put into the divorce as well as how many outside experts must be brought in and paid, is somewhat dependent upon the cooperation or lack of cooperation of the other side, that is the spouse being divorced.

As part of a divorce or collateral to a divorce, common issues which arise include support during the marriage, alimony to allow a divorce to be contested and continuing alimony after the marriage ends.  Additionally, if the parties have minor children, issues regarding legal custody and physical custody may arise.  Legal custody deals with the right to make decisions or gain information or the ability to consent with regard to a child and physical custody deals with who has actual possession and control of the child.  Typically, the court tries to establish a custody schedule which allows both parties to maintain a good and full parental relationship with the child.  This is because it is in the best interest of the child to have a good relationship with each party in most cases.  Each parent has an obligation to share in providing the financial resources to raise a child.  Child support is normally determined based upon a formula or chart issued through the court system which considers the number of children, the income of each party, the percentage of earnings of one party compared to the other, special needs of the children, earning capacity if the parties are not making an effort to earn at their highest reasonable level, and consideration is given for provision of health insurance and the medical costs of the children.

How long a divorce will take is also case specific.  If the parties are cooperative and agree, a divorce complaint must be filed which should allege no-fault grounds; ninety days must elapse after the Defendant is served or accepts service and after that waiting period, affidavits of consent and waivers of notice must be signed and filed along with other necessary papers and promptly thereafter a divorce can be granted.  It is possible to obtain a divorce even before certain economic issues, such as equitable distribution of property, assets and liabilities, child custody, child support or even alimony are determined.

A party who is married cannot remarry even if the party is separated and a divorce is pending and the parties believe there is no chance of reconciliation.  So long as the parties are married and there are no valid termination of that marriage, a new marriage cannot occur.

Some people believe that there are “common law” marriages which can be formed in Pennsylvania.  That had been the law in Pennsylvania for many years and remained the law until January 2, 2005.  A common law marriage is where, without the formality of a marriage certificate or license or a marriage ceremony, the parties announce a present intention to be married and hold themselves out as a married couple.  Pennsylvania still recognizes common law marriage which occurred to prior to January 2, 2005 but marriages cannot occur after that date in Pennsylvania.

Because the law dealing with divorce is so complicated, it is unwise to proceed without competent, experienced legal counsel.  You should consult an attorney to determine what your rights may be, what another party’s rights may be or if you wish to proceed with those rights or if another is attempting to proceed with their rights through the legal process.