Pennsylvania provides grounds for divorce, which can be broken into two categories: a “no fault” divorce, and one based on the “fault” of a spouse. A lawyer can help you determine which option is best for you. And before informing yourself on those differences, we suggest you read our divorce checklist.
What’s the difference?
- Some fault grounds don’t require a waiting period and allow the divorce process to proceed more swiftly.
- Marital fault can be one factor in determining the right to alimony (post-divorce financial support).
- Marital fault can be one of many factors in awarding custody of the children. The court must determine if the alleged offending spouse’s actions were detrimental to the children.
To obtain a fault-based divorce, you will have to prove that your spouse is the culpable party. The fault grounds include: adultery, desertion, conviction of a crime, insanity, cruel and barbarous treatment, a prison sentence of two (2) or more years, and indignities intended to make the other spouse’s condition intolerable. Pennsylvania also permits fault divorces if one spouse is committed to a mental institution for at least eighteen (18) months prior to filing the Divorce Complaint, and there is not a likelihood of discharge for at least eighteen (18) more months.
Fault divorces require an evidentiary hearing and a formal finding by the court that the requisite elements of culpability have been demonstrated. Because fault-based divorces can be emotionally draining and have little impact on the economics of the case, most parties pursue a divorce under no-fault grounds.
No Fault Grounds
This type of divorce includes those cases where both parties wish to divorce and prefer to handle the divorce either quickly or inexpensively. A no-fault divorce is less expensive because there is no need for a court hearing to determine whether one spouse is at fault. In Pennsylvania, No-Fault Grounds can be granted in two situations: (a) where the parties mutually consent to the divorce or (b) where the court finds there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage after a one year separation if separated on or after 12/5/16; two year separation if separated before 12/5/16..
Where 90 days have passed since the date when the divorce action was commenced and the defendant served, and both parties consent to the divorce, the court will have a basis to dissolve the marriage. However, if other claims are pending, such as equitable distribution, those issues must generally be resolved first.
Two Year Separation
In the absence of mutual consent, you must have lived separately from your spouse for at least one (1) year if separated on or after 12/5/16; or two (2) years if separated prior to 12/5/16 and the marriage must be irretrievably broken. The date of separation is critical. On occasion, the husband and wife can still be considered separated for the purposes of divorce, while living at the same address.
Although the parties can begin negotiating a settlement involving their economic claims at any time during the divorce process, before the court can grant a divorce decree, the grounds for divorce must be established.