Pennsylvania Family Law FAQ
1) What are the reasons or “grounds” upon which a divorce may be obtained in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania has “no-fault” and “fault” divorces. “No-fault” requires irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and either a mutual consent to the entry of the divorce decree or a two year separation. There are a number of “fault” grounds, including grounds or charges of adultery, indignities, desertion and other marital wrongs.
Defenses to “fault” grounds for divorce include but are not limited to “recrimination” (accusing party is guilty of acts constituting grounds for “fault divorce” such as adultery or desertion) and “condonation” (accusing party forgives spouse by resuming cohabitation or sexual relations.) Most contested divorces arise from property division disputes.
2) Why is the date of separation important in a Pennsylvania Divorce?
The date of the separation is important in calculating the two-year time period that must pass before one party can obtain a unilateral “no-fault” divorce without the consent of his or her spouse. It is also important in determining the valuation of the marital property (see Property Division on Divorce.) It is possible to separate while living in the same household. However, the proof of such a separation is difficult.
3) When can a party sue in Pennsylvania for a divorce?
A party must have lived in Pennsylvania for at least six months before having a right to sue for divorce. There may be cases where some parties have no right to sue in any state for divorce until residency is acquired.
4) How long does a divorce take?
A mutual consent no-fault divorce takes about four to five months right now. There is a 90 day “cooling -off” period after the complaint is filed. After the cooling-off period expires both parties may file affidavits of consent and the divorce decree is entered thereafter. At the other end of the time spectrum a contested divorce can last years with the average contest lasting a year or more.
5) What factors do courts take into account when deciding who gets custody of the children?
Almost all courts use a standard that gives the “best interests of the child” the highest priority when deciding custody issues. What the best interests of a child are in a given situation depends on many factors, including:
- the child’s age, sex, and mental and physical health
- the parent’s mental and physical health
- the parent’s lifestyle and other social factors, including whether the child is exposed to second-hand smoke and whether there is any history of child abuse
- the emotional bond between parent and child, as well as the parent’s ability to give the child guidance
- the parent’s ability to provide the child with food, shelter, clothing, and medical care
- the child’s established living pattern (school, home, community, religious institution)
- the quality of the child’s education in the current situation
- the impact on the child of changing the status quo, and
- the child’s preference, if the child is above a certain age (usually about 12).
6) If one parent moves out and leaves the kids with the other parent, does it hurt the moving parent’s chances of getting custody at a later date?
Even when a parent leaves to avoid a dangerous or highly unpleasant situation, if the parent hopes to have physical custody at a later time it’s unwise to leave the children behind. The parent who leaves sends a message to the court that the other parent is a suitable choice for physical custody. Also, assuming the children stay in the home where the parents lived as a family, continue in the same school, and participate in their usual activities, a judge may be reluctant to change physical custody, if only to avoid disrupting the children’s regular routines.