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Pennsylvania Divorce Law


Pennsylvania divorce laws cover all aspects of divorce, including alimony, property division, child support and child custody. Pennsylvania divorce law can be complex and hard to understand, so if you have any questions speak with a local Pennsylvania divorce attorney about how Pennsylvania divorce law may affect you and your family.

For your convenience, the chart below summarizes a few of the key concepts of Pennsylvania's divorce laws:

Pennsylvania State Laws

  • Fault/No-Fault: Both
  • Property Distribution: Equitable
  • ADR Available: Yes
  • Parenting Plan Required: No

Important Pennsylvania Divorce Topics

Please understand that this information is provided for illustration purposes only and is not legal advice. If you would like more information about divorce law or your divorce options, connect with a local divorce attorney today by calling 877-349-1310 or filling out the divorce case review form below. Protect your rights during the divorce process with legal advice from a divorce lawyer near you.

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Pennsylvania Grounds for Divorce

Pennsylvania divorce courts accept both no fault and fault ground for divorce. In a no fault divorce, the divorce petition states that the marriage is irretrievably broken. An affidavit is filed along with the divorce petition, alleging that the parties have lived separate and apart for at least two years.

In a no fault divorce, the couple must also recognize Pennsylvania divorce waiting periods. After filing for divorce, at least 90 days must pass from the filing date or when the marriage is irretrievably broken before a divorce is granted.

If one spouse is filing for a fault divorce, there are a few grounds he or she can file under, including:

  • Adultery
  • Bigamy
  • Willful and malicious desertion for one year
  • Cruel treatment, endangering the life or health of the injured spouse
  • Incarceration for two years
  • Creating an intolerable and burdensome living condition for the innocent spouse

Before filing for divorce in Pennsylvania, one spouse must meet the Pennsylvania residency requirement. A Pennsylvania divorce lawyer can help you understand other Pennsylvania divorce laws and state requirements that may affect the length of the divorce process for you.

Pennsylvania Annulment

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the marriage, some couples may be able to petition for an annulment. In a Pennsylvania annulment, it's as if the marriage never existed because it wasn't a legal marriage, according to Pennsylvania law. Either party is able to bring an action for annulment in Pennsylvania. An alleged marriage will be automatically void and will be annulled when:

  • One party to the marriage had already entered into an existing marriage that hadn't ended by divorce or annulment
  • The spouses are related to the degree defined by Pennsylvania law
  • One spouse lacked the capacity to consent to the marriage
  • One party was under 18 at the time of the marriage

A marriage that is voidable, may be annulled if:

  • Either spouse was under 16 - unless the marriage was authorized by the court
  • One of the parties was 16 or 17, lacked consent by a parent or guardian to marry and hasn't subsequently ratified the marriage once reaching 18 - action for annulment must be brought within 60 days of the marriage ceremony
  • Either spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage - action for annulment must be brought within 60 days of the marriage ceremony
  • One party was naturally and incurably impotent at the time of the marriage and still is, unless the condition was known to the other party at the time of the marriage
  • One spouse was induced to enter into the marriage through fraud, duress, coercion or force, and there hasn't been subsequent voluntary cohabitation upon learning of the situation

Pennsylvania Property Division

The state of Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. The Pennsylvania divorce courts determine what is considered fair when making the property distribution. When making a property award in divorce, the Pennsylvania divorce court factors in:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Any prior marriages of either spouse
  • Each spouse's age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocation skills, employabilitiy, estate, liabilities and needs
  • Contribution by one spouse to the other's education, training or increased earning power
  • Opportunity of each spouse for future acquisitions of capital assets and income
  • Both spouse's source of income, including medical, retirement, insurance and other benefits
  • Contribution or dissipation of each spouse in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property
  • Standard of living the couple established during the marriage
  • Value of property assigned to each party
  • Economic circumstances of each spouse, including tax ramifications, when the property division becomes effective
  • Whether a spouse will be the custodial parent of any dependent minor children

Since Pennsylvania property division depends on the circumstances of the divorce, a local Pennsylvania divorce attorney can further explain how property distribution might be affected in your case.

Pennsylvania Alimony

Under divorce law, alimony may also be called maintenance or spousal support. When determining Pennsylvania alimony, the divorce court may consider:

  • Relative earnings and earning capacities of each spouse
  • Age and physical, mental and emotional conditions of each party
  • Each spouse's source of income, including medical, retirement, insurance and other benefits
  • Expectancies and inheritances
  • Length of the marriage
  • One spouse's contribution to the other's education, training or increased earning power
  • Standard of living established during the marriage
  • Extent to which the earning power, expenses or financial obligations or a party may be affected by being the custodial parent
  • Education of each party and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment
  • Each party's liabilities and assets
  • Property brought in the marriage by each spouse
  • Contribution of a spouse as a homemaker
  • Needs of each party
  • Marital misconduct during the marriage
  • Tax ramifications of an alimony award
  • If the party seeking alimony lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her reasonable needs
  • If the party seeking alimony is incapable of supporting themselves with appropriate employment

Pennsylvania alimony will be terminated if the spouse receiving alimony remarries. It is also possible to modify or terminate alimony awards if there is a substantial and continuous change in circumstances for either spouse.

Pennsylvania Residency Requirement

Before filing for divorce in Pennsylvania, one spouse must be a resident of the state for at least six months. The divorce process or Pennsylvania annulment can occur in the county where:

  • The Respondent resides
  • The Petitioner resides, if the defendant lives outside of the state
  • The couple lived during the marriage, if the petitioner has continuously lived in the county
  • The Petitioner resides if it's before the six month period after the date of final separation and the respondent agrees
  • Either spouse lives if it's before the six month period after final separation and neither spouse continues to live in the county where the couple lived during the marriage
  • The Respondent or petitioner live if after the six month period after the date of final separation

Pennsylvania Divorce Waiting Periods

Pennsylvania divorce law doesn't have a waiting period to file for divorce. As long as you meet the Pennsylvania residency requirement, you can file a divorce petition at any time. Once the divorce petition is filed the divorce waiting period depends on the Pennsylvania grounds for divorce you file under. If you and your spouse agree to a no fault divorce, there is a 90 day waiting period before the rest of the divorce process can begin. There isn't a set waiting period if you file for a fault divorce.

The Pennsylvania divorce courts don't require either spouse to require either spouse to recognize a remarriage waiting period, unless the divorce court feels the circumstances of the divorce call for a waiting period.

Pennsylvania Child Support

The Pennsylvania divorce courts use the income share model when determining child support. Pennsylvania child support is calculated by estimating the amount of support available to the child if the family had remained intact. The estimated amount is then divided proportionally between the parents, depending on each parent's income. Pennsylvania divorce law uses the Pennsylvania child support worksheet with past pay stubs or W-2s.

Pennsylvania child support may vary from the Pennsylvania child support worksheets, depending on certain circumstances. The Pennsylvania divorce court will consider the following issues:

  • Net income of the parents
  • Earning capacity of each parent
  • Each parent's assets
  • Any unusual need of the child or parents
  • Extraordinary expenses

Once a child support order has been issued, it may be possible to modify child support if there is a change in circumstances. A local Pennsylvania divorce lawyer can explain the circumstances that may allow for Pennsylvania child support modification.

Pennsylvania Child Custody

The Pennsylvania divorce court will order child custody or visitation to either parent. The key determining factor in child custody decisions is what is in the "best interest of the child". Typically the divorce courts like to ensure reasonable and continuing contact between both parents and the child by ordering joint child custody, as long as it's in the best interest of the child.

Pennsylvania divorce courts consider many factors when awarding child custody. Major contributing factors are any issues that impact the child's overall well-being, such as the child's preference and which parent is the most likely to encourage, permit and allow frequent and continuing contact and physical access between the child and noncustodial parent. Pennsylvania divorce law also takes into account each parent's and adult household member's present and past domestic violence record.

The combinations of different types of child custody can depend on the circumstances of the divorce. A local Pennsylvania divorce attorney can discuss how child custody might be determined in your divorce.

Pennsylvania Grandparent Visitation

Pennsylvania divorce courts don't automatically grant visitation rights for grandparents, but Pennsylvania divorce law does allow grandparents to petition for child visitation.

If an unmarried child has resided with his or her grandparents for a year or more but is then removed from the home by his or her parents, the grandparents can petition for partial child custody or child visitation rights.

When determining visitation rights for grandparents, the Pennsylvania divorce court will apply the best interest of the child standard to decide if granting child visitation will interfere with the parent-child relationship.

If a grandparent petitions for physical child custody and legal child custody, the Pennsylvania divorce court will use the best interest standard and may award child custody if the grandparent:

  • Has genuine care and concern for the child
  • Had a relationship with the child with the consent of a parent of the child or pursuant to an order of the court
  • Assumed the responsibilities for a child:
    • And role of a parent for one year, providing physical, emotional and social needs for the child
    • Who has been determined to be a dependent
    • Who is substantially at risk due to domestic violence, neglect, drug abuse or mental illness

Learn more about visitation rights for grandparents by speaking with a local Pennsylvania divorce attorney to get advice on your child visitation case.

Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement

Pennsylvania divorce courts order child support to ensure a child's financial security after the parents divorce. Child support provides the child with a standard of living he or she would have enjoyed if his or her parents stayed together.

Unpaid child support is an issue Pennsylvania divorce court must deal with like all other 49 states. To help collect unpaid child support, states establish child support enforcement agencies. Pennsylvania divorce court have the right to garnish wages if there is outstanding unpaid child support.

The divorce courts have an employer take out a portion of each paycheck to cover unpaid child support. Child support enforcement in Pennsylvania may also include suspension of licenses and being help in contempt of court. If a deadbeat parent is help in contempt, he or she may be:

  • Imprisoned for up to six months
  • Fined up to $1,000
  • Put on probation for up to one year

The above synopsis of Pennsylvania divorce laws is by no means all-inclusive and has been adapted from applicable state laws. These laws may have changed since our last update and there may be additional laws that apply in your situation. For the latest information on these divorce laws, please contact a local Pennsylvania divorce lawyer in your area.

This "Pennsylvania Divorce Laws" page was last updated April 2009.

Note: Keep in mind that all divorce laws are complex. If you need legal divorce advice or want to fully understand how these laws affect you, please speak with a local divorce attorney.