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Philadelphia Family Lawyer > Philadelphia Divorce FAQs

Philadelphia Divorce FAQs

Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about divorce in Pennsylvania regarding matters such as separation, annulment and common-law marriage. If you have questions about a pending divorce in Philadelphia, call the Law Offices of Lauren H. Kane to discuss your concerns with a caring and compassionate Philadelphia family lawyer with 35 years of experience helping individuals and families with divorce and related matters.

What is a common-law marriage?

In states that recognize common-law marriage, couples can be considered married even without having a formal religious or civil marriage ceremony. A common-law marriage is generally formed when the couple lives together as husband and wife and hold themselves out in public as a married couple. Common-law marriage was abolished in Pennsylvania in 2005. Common-law marriages entered into before 2005 are still valid, for the most part.

How can we get an annulment instead of a divorce?

An annulment is not an alternative to divorce; it does not dissolve a valid marriage. Rather, an annulment is a formal declaration that a marriage is void because it was never valid to begin with. Grounds for annulment include where one spouse was already married to someone else (bigamy), where the parties were too closely related to legally marry (incest), or where one party lacked the capacity to consent to the marriage due to factors such as mental illness or intoxication. Also, if either party to a purported common-law marriage was under 18, the marriage can be annulled.

Other grounds for annulment include marriages where either party was under the age of consent, a party was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time, one party was naturally and incurably impotent and the other party did not know at the time, or one party was tricked into marriage through fraud or coerced into the marriage. These marriages are not automatically void but can be annulled within the applicable time frame. These voidable marriages can also be ratified (made legal) if the parties continue to live together after the impediment to the marriage has been removed.

What happens to a life insurance policy that was purchased during the marriage?

It’s not uncommon for people to purchase life insurance and name their spouse as the primary beneficiary. As part of the property division in a Pennsylvania divorce, the court can order that such life insurance be maintained with the same beneficiary designation. The same goes for a health insurance policy as well. Indeed, even if a life insurance or health insurance policy wasn’t purchased during the marriage, the judge can order that one be purchased as part of the property division, naming the former spouse as beneficiary.

How do we get legally separated instead of divorcing?

Sometimes a couple chooses to separate, even though they are not ready to divorce or choose not to divorce for religious, economic or other reasons. One of the grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage after a separation of one year or more, but other than that, Pennsylvania does not recognize “legal separation” as a status different from being married or divorced. However, if you choose to separate but do not wish to divorce, you can and should draft a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. This agreement can handle matters such as the division of marital property, spousal support, child custody and visitation, and other issues so that the terms of your separation are clear. You can still later choose to divorce or reconcile and get back together, but the Agreement will help you avoid legal battles in the meantime. We can help you negotiate, draft or review a settlement agreement.

What if my spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers?

Your spouse cannot be forced to sign divorce papers, even if you started out with an uncontested divorce based on mutual consent and thought you had an agreement to divorce. Sometimes an uncontested divorce turns contested as the prospect of divorce becomes more “real” or the parties start to disagree over details of property division or support. Spouses have the right to change their minds or have a change of heart. You may need to convert a divorce based on mutual consent to one based on irretrievable breakdown or a fault ground, if applicable. We can help you keep an uncontested divorce on track or fight for your rights in any other proceeding.

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