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Pennsylvania Divorce Laws
Residency and Filing Requirements:In order to file for a divorce in Pennsylvania, residency requirements must be met for the court to accept the case. If the court discovers it does not have jurisdictional rights to hear the case it will not be accepted or it will eventually be dismissed. The requirements are as follows:
Either spouse must be a resident of the state of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to filing. A proceeding for divorce or annulment may be brought in the county: 1. Where the defendant resides; 2. If the defendant resides outside of this Commonwealth, where the plaintiff resides; 3. Of matrimonial domicile, if the plaintiff has continuously resided in the county; 4. prior to six months after the date of final separation and with agreement of the defendant, where the plaintiff resides or, if neither party continues to reside in the county of matrimonial domicile, where either party resides; or 5. After six months after the date of final separation, where either party resides. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes - Title 23 - Sections: 3104)
Grounds for Filing:The Complaint for Divorce must declare the appropriate Pennsylvania grounds upon which the divorce is being sought. The appropriate lawful ground will be that which the parties agree upon and can substantiate, or that which the filing spouse desires to prove to the court. The divorce grounds are as follows:
Mutual consent.--The court may grant a divorce where it is alleged that the marriage is irretrievably broken and 90 days have elapsed from the date of commencement of an action under this part and an affidavit has been filed by each of the parties evidencing that each of the parties consents to the divorce.
Irretrievable breakdown.-- The court may grant a divorce where a complaint has been filed alleging that the marriage is irretrievably broken and an affidavit has been filed alleging that the parties have lived separate and apart for a period of at least two years and that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
1. 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. Committed adultery. 3. By cruel and barbarous treatment, endangered the life or health of the injured and innocent spouse. 4. Knowingly entered into a bigamous marriage while a former marriage is still subsisting. 5. Been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of two or more years upon conviction of having committed a crime. 6. Offered such indignities to the innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse's condition intolerable and life burdensome. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes - Title 23 - Sections: 3301)
Counseling or Mediation Requirements:The court may order the parties to attend an orientation session to explain the mediation process. Thereafter, should the parties consent to mediation, the court may order them to mediate such issues as it may specify.
The court shall adopt local rules for the administration of the mediation program to include rules regarding qualifications of mediators, confidentiality and any other matter deemed appropriate by the court.
The court shall not order an orientation session or mediation in a case where either party or child of either party is or has been a subject of domestic violence or child abuse at any time during the pendency of an action under this part or within 24 months preceding the filing of any action under this part.
The Supreme Court shall develop model guidelines for implementation of this section and shall consult with experts on mediation and domestic violence in this Commonwealth in the development thereof. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes - Title 23 - Sections: 3302 and 5303)
Filing Spouse Title:Plaintiff. The Plaintiff is the spouse who initiates the filing procedure with the family law or domestic relations court.
Non-Filing Spouse Title:Defendant. The Defendant is the spouse who does not file the initial divorce papers, but rather receives them by service.
Court Name:Court of Common Pleas, __________ County, Pennsylvania. This is the Pennsylvania court where the divorce will be filed. The court will assign a case number and have jurisdictional rights to facilitate and grant the orders concerning, but not limited to: property and debt division, support, custody, and visitation. The name of the court is clearly represented at the top of all documents that are filed.
Primary Documents:Complaint for Divorce and Decree of Divorce. These are the essential documents needed to start and finalize a divorce according to Pennsylvania law. There are anywhere from ten to twenty other documents that may be required throughout the filing process. A few other documents that are typically filed during the process are: Affidavit of Verification, Domestic Relations Income and Expense Statement, Notice to File Social Security Numbers, Marital Settlement Agreement , Acknowledgement, and Praecipe to Transmit Record.
Court Clerk's Title:County Clerk's Office of the Court of Common Pleas. The clerk or the clerk's assistants will be the people managing your paperwork with the court. The clerk's office will keep the parties and the lawyers informed throughout the process in regards to additional paperwork that is needed, further requirements, and hearing dates and times.
Property Distribution:Since Pennsylvania is an "equitable distribution" state, the marital property shall be divided in an equitable fashion. Equitable does not mean equal, but rather what is fair. The court will encourage the parties to reach a settlement on property and debt issues otherwise the court will declare the property award.
In an action for divorce or annulment, the court shall, upon request of either party, equitably divide, distribute or assign, in kind or otherwise, the marital property between the parties without regard to marital misconduct in such proportions and in such manner as the court deems just after considering all relevant factors, including: 1. The length of the marriage. 2. Any prior marriage of either party. 3. The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties. 4. The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party. 5. The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income. 6. The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits. 7. The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker. 8. The value of the property set apart to each party. 9. The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage. 10. The economic circumstances of each party, including Federal, State and local tax ramifications, at the time the division of property is to become effective. 11. Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.
Lien.-The court may impose a lien or charge upon property of a party as security for the payment of alimony or any other award for the other party.
Family home.-The court may award, during the pendency of the action or otherwise, to one or both of the parties the right to reside in the marital residence.
Life insurance.-The court may direct the continued maintenance and beneficiary designations of existing policies insuring the life or health of either party which were originally purchased during the marriage and owned by or within the effective control of either party. Where it is necessary to protect the interests of a party, the court may also direct the purchase of, and beneficiary designations on, a policy insuring the life or health of either party. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes - Title 23 - Sections: 3501, 3502, 3505)
Spousal Support:Not all cases involve support from one spouse to the other. The obligation of one spouse to support the other financially for a temporary or permanent basis is decided on a case-by-case basis as agreed to by the parties or at the court's discretion.
Where a divorce decree has been entered, the court may allow alimony, as it deems reasonable, to either party only if it finds that alimony is necessary.
Factors relevant in determining whether alimony is necessary and in determining the nature, amount, duration and manner of payment of alimony, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including: 1. The relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties. 2. The ages and the 3. The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits. 4.The expectancies and inheritances of the parties. 5. The duration of the marriage. 6. The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party. 7. The extent to which the earning power, expenses or financial obligations of a party will be affected by reason of serving as the custodian of a minor child. 8. The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage. 9. The relative education of the parties and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment. 10. The relative assets and liabilities of the parties. 11. The property brought to the marriage by either party. 12. The contribution of a spouse as homemaker. 13. The relative needs of the parties. 14. The marital misconduct of either of the parties during the marriage. The marital misconduct of either of the parties from the date of final separation shall not be considered by the court in its determinations relative to alimony, except that the court shall consider the abuse of one party by the other party. As used in this paragraph, "abuse" shall have the meaning given to it under Section 6102 (relating to definitions). 15. The Federal, State and Local Tax ramifications of the alimony award. 16. Whether the party seeking alimony lacks sufficient property, including, but not limited to, property distributed under Chapter 35 (relating to property rights), to provide for the party's reasonable needs. 17. Whether the party seeking alimony is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment.
Duration.-The court in ordering alimony shall determine the duration of the order, which may be for a definite or an indefinite period of time which is reasonable under the circumstances.
Statement of reasons.-In an order made under this section, the court shall set forth the reason for its denial or award of alimony and the amount thereof.
Modification and termination.-An order entered pursuant to this section is subject to further order of the court upon changed circumstances of either party of a substantial and continuing nature whereupon the order may be modified, suspended, terminated or reinstituted or a new order made. Any further order shall apply only to payments accruing subsequent to the petition for the requested relief. Remarriage of the party receiving alimony shall terminate the award of alimony. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes - Title 23 - Sections: 3701, 3702, 3704, 3706)
Child Custody:When minor children are involved in a divorce, the Pennsylvania courts will do everything possible to help lessen the emotional trauma the children may be experiencing. If the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding the issues involving the children, the court will establish the custody order at its discretion.
In making an order for custody, partial custody or visitation to either parent, the court shall consider, among other factors, which parent is more likely to encourage, permit and allow frequent and continuing contact and physical access between the noncustodial parent and the child. In addition, the court shall consider each parent and adult household member's present and past violent or abusive conduct which may include, but is not limited to, abusive conduct as defined under the act of October 7, 1976 (P.L.1090, No.218), known as the Protection From Abuse Act.
The court shall award sole custody when it is in the best interest of the child.
An order for shared custody may be awarded by the court when it is in the best interest of the child: 1.upon application of one or both parents; 2.when the parties have agreed to an award of shared custody; or 3.in the discretion of the court.
Child Support:Pennsylvania child support guidelines are based on the Income Shares Model for calculating child support. The monthly support amount determined by applying the guidelines is divided proportionally according to each parent's income. These two support amounts are then offset to establish which parent will pay the other parent for support of the child. All income is typically verified by examining past W-2's and child support worksheets are available at the courthouse.
Child support shall be awarded pursuant to a Statewide Guideline as established by General Rule by the Supreme Court, so that persons similarly situated shall be treated similarly. The guideline shall be based upon the reasonable needs of the child seeking support and the ability of the obligor to provide support. In determining the reasonable needs of the child seeking support and the ability of the obligor to provide support, the guideline shall place primary emphasis on the net incomes and earning capacities of the parties, with allowable deviations for unusual needs, extraordinary expenses and other factors, such as the parties' assets, as warrant special attention. The guideline so developed shall be reviewed at least once every four years. (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes - Title 23 - Sections: 4322)
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To file for divorce in Pennsylvania, either spouse must have had residency in the Commonwealth for at least six months.
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