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Divorce Laws in Pennsylvania

Knowing what you’re getting into before you begin the divorce process, or if you’re looking for help with other family matters after a divorce, might ease some of your worries.

Although divorce has become more prevalent in prevailing years, there are still nuances to family law that may be overwhelming to someone unfamiliar with Pennsylvania’s legal system. You might have questions about how property is divided, if you’ll be expected to pay alimony once your relationship has ended, or how long the entire process might take.

Attorney Susan Gibson with Gibson Family Law, PLLC, is prepared to help you with your family law matter. She’s been exclusively practicing family law in Bucks County for nearly 15 years. Her experience with and knowledge of Pennsylvania’s legal system can lead you to the desired outcome.

Schedule a consultation today at (267) 337-6524 or through our online contact form.

Divorce Laws

Understanding the kinds of divorces available in Pennsylvania can inform you what steps to take and how you can approach the separation process. Several factors can determine if you’ll need to take the matter before a judge or if you’ll be able to settle without a trial. Only residents of six months can file for divorce in Pennsylvania, and the pleadings typically will be filed in the county of the last marital residence.

Fault vs. No-Fault

Before you even look at beginning the divorce process, Pennsylvania law dictates that anyone seeking a divorce will need to establish “grounds” or reasons to separate. There are three “grounds” for divorce in Pennsylvania: 1) Fault (which includes abuse, infidelity, etc., 2) No-Fault with both parties agreeing to divorce, 3) No-Fault after the parties have been separate for at least a year. You’ll either file a fault or “no-fault” divorce. Check out 23 Pa. Cons. § 3301(a).

Fault Divorce

If you feel your spouse has wronged you, you’ll be able to file a fault divorce. This means if they committed adultery, committed “malicious desertion” without cause for one or more years, endangered your life or health “by cruel or barbarous treatment,” knowingly or willfully committing bigamy, or committed “indignities” to you that made your day-to-day “condition intolerable and life burdensome.”

No-Fault Divorce

Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, so married couples can file for divorce without needing the other party to have wronged them. Both spouses can agree the relationship is irretrievably broken, and neither wish to remain married. Most divorces in Pennsylvania proceed under the “no fault” provisions of the divorce code. In those situations, the divorce is granted upon “mutual consent” or a period of separation for at least a year. Check 23 Pa. Cons. §3301(c).

LGBTQ Divorce

In matters of same-sex marriage or union, working to divorce or separate follows the same legal statutes for a marriage between opposite-sex couples. Couples can file for mutual consent, one-year separation, or fault divorces based on legal grounds.

Cohabitation Agreements and Domestic Partnerships

In Pennsylvania, same-sex couples or opposite couples can seek a cohabitation agreement or a domestic partnership. Before same-sex marriage was permitted in the state, domestic partnerships would allow spouses to receive benefits and recognition of rights in lieu of marriage.

Cohabitation agreements are recognized across Pennsylvania. Cohabitation agreements allow unmarried couples who want to remain unmarried but share property ownership or finances to determine how the couple’s assets, debts, and benefits might be shared during a relationship and how they’ll be divided should the relationship end. Cohabitation agreements are limited in that they do not grant the couple all of the same equitable rights in each other’s property as a marriage does.

Alimony/Modification

In a divorce decree, a clause may be included to grant alimony from the spouse with more income to the spouse with less income. There are a few types of alimony:

  • Spousal support — payments given to the dependent spouse after separation before a divorce is filed.
  • Alimony pendente lite — payments granted to the dependent spouse after a divorce is filed but before it is finalized.
  • Alimony — payments awarded to the dependent spouse after a divorce is finalized.

For more information about types, how much to pay, how to modify alimony, and the duration of payments, check out 37 Pa. Cons. §3701(a).

Child Custody and Support

Pennsylvania law dictates that parents have the right to see their children and are responsible for providing for them. Parents do not have to be married or to have previously been in a relationship for child custody or support to begin.

When parents separate or end their relationship, custody orders and support orders will determine how much support will be paid and what custody schedule will be followed. Parents can either reach a mutual agreement on these plans and payments, or the court will hold hearings and enter an order after a hearing.

To learn more about custody, see Pennsylvania’s Title 53. To see guidelines for child support, see 231 Pa. Cons. §1910.16-1.

Modification

Both the orders for child custody and support can be modified if one or both parties show substantial changes in their circumstances. One parent may have lost their job, or a parent could have received a raise. Parents can agree to modify parenting plans or payments, but a court must approve those changes.

Child custody modification is covered in 53 Pa. Cons. §5338.

Contempt and Enforcement

If a party has been required to pay child support, ordered to share custody of a child, or is court-ordered to make alimony payments, they are legally bound to follow those agreements and court orders. If they choose not to, they face contempt of court charges and possibly more penalties, like liens on property or losing their driver’s license, and in some extreme cases, even jail

The courts can work with individuals to adjust their payments or schedules to help them get into compliance and stay in compliance with orders, but the law does not usually look kindly on anyone not following the divorce agreements. These Pennsylvania statutes outline contempt of court orders.

Prenuptial Agreements

In Pennsylvania, prenuptial, or premarital, agreements act as a contract between two partners before they are married. The agreements establish understandings between the couple, such as the division of property or assets. They activate upon marriage. See 23 Pa. Cons. §3106.

Turn to a Bucks County Family Law Attorney

Family law is complicated. There are sensitive topics that must be handled delicately. Having someone experienced in legal matters in Bucks County can help you navigate the process to reach your desired outcome.

Attorney Susan Gibson with Gibson Family Law, PLLC, has been practicing family law exclusively in Bucks County for nearly 15 years. She can help you file the proper paperwork and work to find the most appropriate strategy for you. Susan is ready to hear your case.

Call (267) 337-6524 or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation.

Divorce

Divorce looks different for everyone, depending on their circumstances. Pennsylvania is a no-fault state for divorce, and the process can get complicated. However, your family law attorney informs you of Pennsylvania divorce requirements and helps you file the necessary paperwork.

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Equitable Distribution

Pennsylvania law determines the division of property based on what’s equitable, not equal. The court’s goal is to put both parties in almost the same position they would be if they remained married. Your attorney will evaluate your assets, highlight any issues, and assess all available arguments in your case.

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Child Custody

Many parents have varying degrees of shared physical custody of their children, and much goes into the final decision. In Bucks County's Court Conciliation and Evaluation Services program, an evaluator will talk to parents, children, and other relatives to give the court information on both parties to resolve any child custody disputes.

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Child Support

With adequate information, your attorney advocates for your position so that the Court can determine the amount you can expect to pay in child support. Cooperation and transparency are key to achieving a desirable outcome. If things change in the future, your child support may be modified.

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Spousal Support / APL

Like child support, spousal support is driven by income and earning capacity. For complex income situations, your family law attorney works with and collaborates with forensic accountants to determine net income available for support.

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Prenuptial Agreements

Although newlyweds don’t consider the possibility of divorce, a prenuptial agreement determines what happens to your assets if one occurs. Your attorney can establish a plan if you and your spouse divorce to ensure your future is secure.

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Postnuptial Agreements

Like prenuptial agreements, a postnuptial agreement sets forth what will happen to you and your spouse’s assets after a divorce. The difference is that a postnuptial agreement occurs after you’re already married.

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LGBTQ Divorce

Like any divorce, same-sex couples must endure a similar process when they wish to end their marriage. However, there could be unique factors that could come up in your case. Let a family law attorney listen to your story and provide a smooth divorce process.

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Cohabitation Agreements

Some couples may decide they don't want to get married but will want to find ways to protect their financial interests if they move in with their significant other. Getting help with a cohabitation agreement can save time and money before an issue arises.

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