By Robert E. Fravel, Esq.
While divorce can be a long, painful process for all involved, Pennsylvania actually has very flexible divorce laws. Pennsylvania allows a divorce when one party sues for divorce (the traditional method), AND Pennsylvania also allows divorce through agreement of the parties.
Pennsylvania divorces fall into two different categories: “Fault” based divorces and “No-fault” based divorces.
A “fault” based divorce is a divorce in which one party sues the other and must prove the grounds for divorce in court. The legal authority for these divorces stems from 23 Pa.C.S. §3301(a). In Pennsylvania, there are six possible grounds upon which a fault-based divorce can proceed.
- Willful and malicious desertion – one spouse intentionally left the other spouse for a period of more than one year;
- Adultery – one spouse engaged in an extra martial affair(s);
- Cruel and barbarous treatment – one spouse’s life was endangered through the abuse of the other spouse;
- Bigamy – one spouse was already married;
- Imprisonment – one party will be imprisoned for a period of at least 2 years;
- Indignities – one spouse has made the other’s life intolerable (this is the catch-all category, but a common example is mental or verbal abuse).
In situations where one spouse wants a divorce and the other does not, the party wanting the divorce can sue for divorce based on one or more of these fault base grounds, and as long as they can prove their case, the court will grant the divorce. These fault categories have their roots in old English common law which is why they seem quite antiquated, but the main difference is that these fault based grounds are now available to either spouse, male or female. Fault based divorces typically take the longest and involve the most litigation.
“No-fault” divorces fall into two distinct sub-categories: Mutual consent divorces and uncontested divorces. A mutual consent divorce is derived from 23 Pa.C.S. §3301(c). Here, while one party files the initial suit, both parties must sign and file affidavits agreeing to the divorce and likely agreeing to any distribution of property/debts. There is also a 90 day waiting period between the filing and finalizing the divorce, sometimes referring to as a “cooling off period”, just in case the parties change their mind and do not wish to follow through with the divorce. After this 90 day waiting period, the divorce can be finalized fairly easily.
An uncontested divorce occurs when one party files the initial suit, and instead of agreeing to the divorce, the other party simply does nothing. If one party does nothing, the court can grant a unilateral divorce under 23 Pa.C.S. §3301(d). If the non-filing does object to the divorce, the divorce can still proceed based on one spouse’s initial claim that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”, however it will require a bit more work and time.
If you are considering filing for divorce, make sure you speak with an experienced family law attorney who can help you understand which type of divorce is available to you, and what type of divorce will work best in your specific situation.