Philadelphia Divorce Lawyer
Serving Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery & Philadelphia County
There are many different ways couples can divorce in Pennsylvania, and the time a divorce takes and the process involved varies depending upon the circumstances. With 35 years in the practice of Pennsylvania family law, Philadelphia divorce lawyer Lauren H. Kane has seen her clients through every kind of marriage dissolution, from uncontested petitions to the most complex divorces. Learn some basic facts below about how divorce works in Pennsylvania, and contact the Law Offices of Lauren H. Kane if you are contemplating divorce in Philadelphia or if you have been served with divorce papers by your spouse.
Divorce In Pennsylvania
The legal process to get a divorce varies from state to state. In Pennsylvania, the process begins when one party files a divorce petition with the prothonotary in the county where either spouse is residing or where both spouses agree to have the divorce handled. At least one spouse must be a Pennsylvania resident for at least six months before a petition can be filed.
The filing party serves a copy of the petition on the other spouse, who has an opportunity to file a response to the allegations in the petition. The court may hold a hearing to determine whether there is any reasonable prospect of reconciliation. If not, the case is continued for 90 to 120 days or longer by agreement of the parties. The court can require the couple to attend up to three marriage counseling sessions upon the request of either party or own the court’s motion if the couple has a minor child under 16 years old.
The court may make temporary orders at this time, such as allowing one party to reside in the marital home while the divorce is pending. Next, both parties are required to make financial disclosures to the other side so each party can intelligently prepare their case and make appropriate requests regarding topics such as the property division or the payment of spousal support.
If the parties can resolve the issues in their divorce such as the distribution of marital property, payment of alimony, child custody and child support, then they can create a Property Settlement Agreement for the judge to review and sign. If they can’t settle on these vital issues, the judge will hold a hearing where the parties will litigate these matters through their attorneys. Lauren H. Kane is highly successful in litigating family law cases and will fight hard for your rights and best interests in your Philadelphia divorce.
Grounds For Divorce
There are several “no-fault” grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania, meaning one spouse does not have to prove misconduct on the part of the other spouse in order to get a divorce. These no-fault grounds are:
Institutionalization – Where one spouse has been confined to a mental institution for the previous 18 months or more due to insanity or a serious mental disorder, and there is no reasonable prospect the spouse will be discharged within the next 18 months.
Mutual Consent – If both spouses consent to the divorce, the court can grant a divorce 90 days after the petition was filed. Several steps are required to obtain this uncontested divorce, including proving the marriage is irretrievably broken, completing and filing required affidavits, and completing a Property Settlement Agreement to dispose of issues like the distribution of marital property and spousal support.
Irretrievable Breakdown – The court can grant a divorce on the grounds that the parties have lived separate and apart for at least a year, and the marriage is irretrievably broken. These allegations are usually agreed upon by both spouses, but if not, the court may hold a hearing to determine whether these facts exist.
Pennsylvania also recognizes several fault-based grounds. In these cases, the court will grant a divorce to the innocent and injured spouse if that spouse can prove the other spouse’s misconduct. Grounds for a fault divorce are:
- Cruel and barbarous treatment
- Conviction of crime and sentenced to two years or more in prison
- Indignities that render conditions intolerable and life burdensome
Pennsylvania 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.
Call Us for Immediate Assistance in Your Philadelphia Divorce
Even in no-fault divorces, you may still need to prove certain facts as part of the divorce process. For instance, if you and your spouse disagree over issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support or property division, you’ll need to litigate the matter in court and convince the judge that the law and facts are on your side. Philadelphia divorce lawyer Lauren H. Kane will represent you in negotiations or mediation to work out these differences and will represent you in court when necessary to get a just result that meets your needs.
For help with any type of divorce, contact the Law Offices of Lauren H. Kane to discuss your case with an experienced and successful Philadelphia divorce lawyer.