Overview of Divorce Procedures in Pennsylvania

Updated: May 13, 2019

While divorce certainly has significant social and emotional considerations, financial concerns often lie at the forefront of many divorce proceedings. These issues can range from determining who takes over certain property to who pays for the divorce proceedings themselves. Additionally, depending on the length of the marriage, finances can become so entangled that arriving at an acceptable split of assets and costs can be challenging at best. As with any complicated matter, consulting an expert to get an overview of the process is essential, so consulting a divorce attorney is an important first step in making such a stressful and time-consuming process less daunting.


Finding a Divorce Attorney


Generally, whenever we look for services, we lean towards selecting the best that our budgets can afford. However, when looking for a divorce attorney, it is very useful to look beyond price point as many factors can influence your case. Factors such as years of experience and familiarity with any issues unique to your case can greatly shape the experience you have with your attorney and help reduce the burden of a stressful situation. A great starting point is searching, “divorce lawyer near me”, to get a list, and then narrowing it down based on the aforementioned factors.


When filing for divorce, what forms are needed?


There are a range of factors that determine which forms are necessary when you are filing for divorce and how you would go about doing so. It is always recommended that you consult with an experienced divorce attorney and if applicable, a custody lawyer to help determine what you need to file with the courts based on the specifics of your case.


In the state of Pennsylvania, divorces can be classified as complicated or non-complicated.

Complicated divorces involve the division of assets, custody determinations, requests for alimony, and have special considerations if one or both parties are in the military, or if one party is confined due to mental illness or imprisonment, or in the case of abandonment.


In the case of a non-complicated divorce there are generally six steps required for a divorce in Pennsylvania. Step one, which is the filing of the complaint, requires two forms: “Notice to Defend and Claim Rights” and “Verification”. There are fees associated with filing these forms and if the filing party cannot afford them, they may file another form requesting to file, In Forma Pauperis. Step two requires one of three forms that determine how the other party will be served. Step three entails a 90 day wait period, for which there are no forms to be filed and step four requires one of two forms depending on whether both parties agree to the divorce, with the option of completing another form if they wish to proceed more quickly to step five. Step five entails filing a form called the Praecipe to Transmit Record. After this is step six, when the courts will mail the Divorce Decree to both parties. In addition, if one party wishes to resume the use of their birth name, they must file a form either before or after the Divorce Decree is issued.


The Stresses of Representing Yourself in a Divorce Case

What happens when one party does not agree to the divorce?


In the state of Pennsylvania, for cases where one party does not agree to the divorce, there is a minimum of one year separation time where both parties must be living separately before it is possible to proceed with a divorce filing. If the period of separation began before December 5, 2016, the parties must have been living separately for at least two years prior to filing.


As there are more complications in the case of one party not agreeing to the divorce, there are additional steps in filing for divorce on top of the ones referenced when both parties agree. In this instance there are eight steps. Steps one through three are the same as with a divorce where both parties agree. However, step four requires additional forms including a counter-affidavit and/or if one party is in the military. Step five entails service of all of the proper forms and step six is a 20-day waiting period per the state of Pennsylvania where there must be a period of 20 days between the serving of the Notice of Intention to Request Entry of Section 3301(d) Divorce Decree and filing the Praecipe to Transmit Record. Step seven involves the filing of the Praecipe to Transmit Record. Step eight is the conclusion with the issuance of the Divorce Decree.


Should you represent yourself in a divorce case?


Before you make this decision, consider the process and the number of forms, and remember that divorces usually involve some degree of complication - there are usually more forms that must be filed including requests for alimony, determinations of who will pay for lawyers’ fees and court costs, and custody and child support determinations, among other things. These items must be filed prior to the granting of a Divorce Decree.


With financial considerations and custody issues, if applicable, it is almost always advisable to consult the services of a divorce attorney and a custody lawyer. It is essential to ensure that everything is being done properly and that the proper forms and procedures are being followed as put forth by Pennsylvania law, and having an attorney can ensure that important issues are addressed.


Is divorce always a 50/50 split?


It is common to assume that when two parties divorce, all assets and property is split evenly among both parties. However, given that there are many financial considerations of divorce, this is usually not the case.


When a divorce is initiated, it is important to take inventory of all marital property to assess what assets count as marital property and which can be considered as individual property. Marital property encompasses all property acquired during the marriage and this can include houses, vehicles, and any other item or asset acquired via inheritance or gift. This also includes any value gained by a home or investment purchased before marriage regardless of who owned it prior to marriage. Considering this, it is essential to make a full and accurate accounting of all assets to ensure a proper valuation so that nothing is left out and the divorcing couple can make fully informed decisions regarding marital property.


Marital property doesn’t just include physical, tangible items but also includes any bank accounts, life insurance, and investments, and retirement accounts and pensions as well.

These assets can be easier to reconcile as their value tends to be much more apparent; however, there are more considerations that accompany the division of these assets such as length of marriage, contribution of each party to said assets, children, age, and health of the respective parties. Additionally, when considering the division of marital property in a divorce, it is important to request the agreed upon division prior to the granting of the divorce, as any requests made after that may not be granted since the action has already been completed.


In the case of a request for alimony, the courts determine if it is necessary and the determination is based on factors such as length of marriage, health status of the parties, and earning capacities of the respective parties. Alimony is payment to a husband or wife after a divorce is finalized. For this to be granted, there are also considerations for less expected things such as the contribution of one spouse to the other's education and career development. Additionally, conduct during the marriage may also be a determining factor in the granting of alimony. As with division of marital property, this must be filed before the issuance of the Divorce Decree, otherwise all rights to claim this will be forfeited.


Remember What's Truly Important When Going Through A Divorce

Custody and Child Support


This differs from the division of marital property in that this doesn't to have to be part of the divorce proceedings and could be addressed separately.


However, if the parties do wish this to be addressed as part of the divorce proceedings, it is possible to have it included, even if only one party wishes to do so. Both parties may agree on a custody and/or child support decision and make it part of the final divorce decision. Alternatively, they can use the courts to arrive at an agreement as well. Child support payments depend on who has custody of the child or children and a range of factors may also be considered.


For the non-custodial parent, child support may be required if requested by the custodial parent. In this case, the income and assets, number of children and deductions are considered, and the amount of child support that must be paid is determined.


Given the complexity of these decisions, it is very helpful to consult the services of a custody attorney who is familiar with the intricacies of these issues.


Situations and Types of Divorce Affecting Financial Agreements


In the cases of domestic abuse, desertion, and other situations in which a spouse may be inflicting emotional and/or physical harm, other financial considerations come to the forefront. In addition, cases in which one party is confined, either due to a serious mental disorder, or incarceration, there will be financial implications as well. This would likely affect the ability to receive child support, or any other alimony or spousal support applicable in the state of Pennsylvania, in addition to the payment of attorney’s fees and court costs as well.


Given the intricacies of determining the best course of action for your finances in a divorce when there are complicating factors such as confinement or abandonment, it is essential to consult a divorce attorney who can assist in navigating such difficulties.


How long does divorce take and is there a minimum time of separation?


In instances where both parties agree to divorce, the speed of the divorce depends on how quickly the proper forms are filed with the courts and observation of the 90-day waiting period during step four. However, in the case that one party does not consent to the divorce, there is a minimum waiting period of one year once both parties have separated and are living separately. If this separation happened after December 5, 2016 then the minimum waiting period is 2 years. Additionally, in this instance, once paperwork is being filed, there is no 90-day waiting period as there is in a consent divorce, and the proceedings move forward based on the rate of filing the proper forms.


Conclusion


With these factors considered, it understandable that divorce can be overwhelming and stressful. Not only do emotional situations arise than can cause difficulty, the financial considerations can be formidable. Given the intricacies of filing for divorce, including financial considerations, potential custody/child support issues, and other unforeseen difficulties, it is important to consult with an expert such as a divorce and/or custody attorney that can help make sense of your rights and obligations.


With this in mind, contacting the Law Offices of Matthew Kelly Associates for a free divorce consultation can help ease the burden of a trying situation.


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