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What Are The Grounds For Divorce In Pennsylvania?

A divorce is one of the most stressful events a person can go through in their life. It marks the dissolution of a marriage, the division of assets, spousal support, and possibly issues of child custody. The divorce lawyers at Grace Legal have years of experience guiding clients through this emotional time. With compassion and diligence, they have been providing sound legal advice to the residents of Central Pennsylvania on all legal issues involved in a divorce.  Grace Legal is dedicated to protecting your best interests.

In Pennsylvania, the divorce law permits a court to grant a dissolution of your marriage if you meet certain statutory requirements. Initially, you must qualify. That means, one or both spouses must have lived in Pennsylvania for at least the past six months. In addition, you need to meet one of the legally accepted reasons for ending the marriage.

You may have heard the terms “fault” and “no-fault” when it comes to divorce. Fault grounds apply when you’re accusing your spouse of wrongdoing, such as willful desertion, adultery, or cruelty that endangers the life or health of the injured and innocent spouse. No-fault grounds come into play when neither spouse is blaming the other for the breakdown of the marriage.

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Pennsylvania Divorce FAQs

A fault divorce is one in which grounds for the divorce are alleged by one party and proven to the satisfaction of the court.

The court may grant a divorce to the innocent and injured spouse whenever it is judged that one of the below criteria is met:

  1. Abandonment. This occurs when one spouse leaves the home without the intention of returning. It can also occur if one spouse withdraws from all marital responsibilities, such as financial support or child care. In order to divorce on the grounds of abandonment, you must prove that your spouse intended to abandon you. This involves committed willful and malicious desertion, and absence from the habitation of the injured and innocent spouse, without a reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years.
  2. Adultery. A divorce on the grounds of adultery requires that one spouse has had sexual intercourse with someone other than his or her spouse. It does not require that the affair be the cause of the divorce; it need only be a contributing factor. In order to prove adultery, you will need evidence such as testimony from eyewitnesses or documentation such as emails or text messages.
  3. Cruelty. If you have been the victim of cruel and inhuman treatment, you can divorce your spouse on those grounds. Cruel and inhuman treatment includes any physical or emotional abuse that makes it unsafe for you to continue living together. You will need to provide evidence of the abuse, such as medical records or police reports.
  4. Bigamy. The court may grant a divorce from a spouse upon the ground that they knowingly entered into a bigamous marriage while a former marriage is still subsisting.
    Incarceration. Been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of two or more years upon conviction of criminal charges. You will need to provide proof of your spouse’s incarceration, such as a copy of the prison sentence.
  5. Institutionalization. The court may grant a divorce from a spouse upon the ground that insanity or serious mental disorder has resulted in confinement in a mental institution for at least 18 months and where there is no reasonable prospect that the spouse will be discharged from inpatient care during the 18 months subsequent to the commencement of the action.
  6. Other. Offered such indignities to the innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome.

In a no-fault divorce, grounds are not necessary; it is simply a divorce that is mutually desired by both parties and filed as such.

There are two grounds for a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania:

  1. Mutual Consent. The court may grant a divorce where it is alleged that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” This means the spouses can’t get along and there’s no reasonable prospect of that changing. Each spouse has to file an affidavit stating that they consent to the divorce.
  2. One Year of Legal Separation. In this case, the person filing for the divorce (the “plaintiff”) swears in an affidavit that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” AND that the spouses have lived separate and apart for at least a year AND the other spouse (the “defendant”) doesn’t deny the claims made in the plaintiff’s affidavit. Even if the defendant’s spouse denies the claims in the affidavit, the court can still grant a divorce if, after a hearing, the court finds that the marriage is in fact irretrievably broken.

Once you have retained legal representation from a divorce lawyer, divorce proceedings can begin. This is a legal process best handled by a family law attorney with extensive experience in divorce and family law. In order to arrive at the best solution for you, your divorce attorney will walk you through the steps, timeline, and what you can expect as your case moves forward. Much will depend on whether your case is contested or uncontested.

Uncontested divorces

In an uncontested divorce, the spouses have agreed on the essential issues that must be resolved in order to dissolve the marriage. These issues include:

  • Division of the marital property assets
  • Whether one spouse will pay spousal support
  • Child custody issues, if applicable, including visitation and support

Not to minimize the pain and anguish involved in dissolving a marriage through an uncontested divorce, this is the method that not only expedites the matter, but it also precludes a long drawn-out and expensive court battle.

Contested Divorces

After your divorce attorney files your complaint stating the grounds for the divorce, your spouse, through their attorneys, will file an answer to the allegations. Both spouses will be required to file with the court an Income Statement. The Income Statement sets forth detailed information about income, assets, accounts and debts.

It is imperative that each party be detailed and honest on the Income Statement. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and at times the spouse contesting the divorce may attempt to hide assets or property. If you and/or your divorce lawyers believe this is the case, then attempts will need to be made through formal discovery, investigation, depositions and other means to uncover those assets before any trial or mediation.

Pennsylvania judges and courts would prefer to help couples avoid the time and expense of a trial. If the parties involved cannot reach a settlement, the judge may require mediation to facilitate a settlement on some or all of the issues. Your divorce attorney will advise you on this process. However, if all means to resolve the dispute fail, then the divorce will continue to trial.

At trial, the judge will hear testimony from both sides, review evidence and arrive at a ruling. The judge can rule on all the outstanding issues including:

  • Grounds for divorce
  • Division of property and assets
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Visitation
  • Spousal support

Your attorneys will be by your side throughout the entire divorce case providing unyielding representation and personal attention to your unique needs. They will keep you fully informed and provide you with their assessment of the legal issues and how to protect your best interests.

How long it will take to complete your divorce depends greatly on whether it is contested or uncontested. Needless to say, uncontested divorce is the faster route. Pennsylvania law requires a 90-day waiting period before the judge may grant a final divorce by mutual consent.

A contested divorce can take quite a bit longer – easily a year or more – depending on the circumstances such as custody issues, financial complexity of the property and assets, and issues of support.

You have the right to represent yourself in a divorce proceeding. However, you should first have a consultation with an experienced divorce attorney before making this decision. These cases are not merely emotional, they are technical and there is potentially a lot on the line. Factors to consider when making this decision, as indicated above, are dissolution of assets, hidden assets, child custody, child support, and spousal support.

You will want and need a qualified and experienced divorce attorney on your side whether you are seeking a divorce or your spouse is seeking one from you.

The team at Grace Legal has years of experience in family law and as divorce lawyers in Camp Hill, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, and all of central Pennsylvania. The firm is dedicated to providing the legal assistance and representation you need if you are about to enter into the difficult and emotional process of dissolving your marriage.

Our team will lead you and represent you with passion, determination, compassion, and Grace.