The end of a marriage does not necessarily need to mean the end of civility. While many divorces result in complex and lengthy courtroom litigation, your divorce does not have to. If you and your spouse can agree on certain issues regarding the divorce, you may qualify for an uncontested divorce.
This article will explain the nature of an uncontested divorce and Pennsylvania uncontested divorce law. If you still have any questions after reading this article or would like to file for an uncontested divorce, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.
Uncontested Divorce in Pennsylvania Defined
Uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania is often known as a divorce by consent. In other words, once one spouse files for a divorce, the divorce becomes uncontested by the agreement of the other spouse to the terms of the divorce. The uncontested divorce process tends to proceed quickly and painlessly, and couples often do not need to appear before a judge to finalize their divorce. On the other hand, Pennsylvania contested divorces are well-known for their lengthy waiting periods.1
Requirements for Seeking a Pennsylvania Uncontested Divorce
To file for uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania, the filing spouses must meet certain requirements. Any questions about these requirements can be answered by an experienced Pennsylvania divorce attorney or family lawyer.
The first requirement for seeking an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania is the state residency requirement. Either spouse must have been living within the state of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to filing for divorce.2
The second requirement for seeking an uncontested divorce is satisfaction of the grounds for a no-fault divorce based on mutual consent. To satisfy those grounds, the couple must allege in their divorce filings that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and both spouses must also file an affidavit (a type of written declaration) consenting to the divorce and terms of the marital settlement agreement.3
The third and final requirement of a divorce by consent is consent: in other words, agreement of the parties. Consent is most often evidenced by the creation of a marital settlement agreement that addresses the terms of the divorce. A complete marital settlement agreement should leave no remaining issues for a judge to rule on.
On Spousal Support and Marital Settlement Agreements
When spouses sit down to discuss the terms of their divorce, it is often beneficial for the spouses to sign a legal marital settlement agreement. A marital settlement agreement is NOT a formal divorce. A marital settlement agreement is a contract between spouses that lays out their agreement and terms of their separation. A fully completed marital settlement agreement can serve as the basis for an uncontested divorce, and may be helpful in filling out the required divorce paperwork. Prior to signing any marital settlement agreement (or any contract with your spouse), you should have an experienced attorney review the terms of the contract for you.
Prior to the negotiation of a marital settlement agreement, Pennsylvania law requires documentation of full and fair disclosure and valuation of each spouses’ assets. Without such documentation, the agreement could be invalidated by a court. In addition to validation, a complete marital settlement agreement will address all of the following issues in a divorce:
- Equitable division of marital real estate, publicly traded stock and business interests, and joint marital property;
- Assignment of the marital debts;
- Tax consequences;
- Alimony; and
- If applicable, a plan for child custody and visitation as well as child support;
The Process for Filing for an Uncontested Divorce in Pennsylvania
Once you have determined which court is the proper court for filing, the general flow of the process is follows:
- This step is optional, but you should begin by consulting a family law attorney who can either answer any questions that you may have, or who can help you file your divorce paperwork properly;
- Next, you should acquire all of the needed divorce forms to begin filing your divorce. While the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania’s website does include a set of approved divorce forms for spouses without attorneys4, the website also recommends that spouses check with their local county courts to make sure that the court you will be filing in does not require additional paperwork.
- You and your spouse should then sit down and reach an agreement on the terms of your divorce. This will involve the creation of a marital settlement agreement.
- When it comes time to file for divorce, you should file your divorce paperwork in the county court in which you meet the state residency requirement. Filing for divorce will result in court fees, and if you are concerned about your ability to pay those fees, you should file an in forma pauperis form along with your divorce petition.
- Once you have filed the proper divorce paperwork, you will need to serve your spouse with the divorce complaint. Service must be accomplished according to the rules for service of process, which requires in person service by an adult (not you or anyone related to you). Once you have served your spouse, you must file Proof of Service with the Court.
- After you have served your spouse, the court required the couple to wait 90 days, after which time, the non-filing spouse may sign an Affidavit of Consent and either a Notice of Intention to Request Divorce Decree or a Waiver of Notice.
- If no mistakes were made, the Court will mail copies of the Divorce Decree to both spouses.
For more detailed information about how to complete the uncontested divorce process, you should review the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System’s website.5
Note: This article is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.
- See Wallace McKlelvey, No-fault Divorce Bill Could Make Acrimonious Splits More Amicable, PENN. LIVE (Oct. 4, 2016). While Pennsylvania’s waiting time for contested divorces was recently reduced to one-year, previous couples seeking a contested divorce in Pennsylvania were required to wait at least two years before the divorce was finalized. This often resulted in three-to-five year long divorce litigation.
- 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3104.
- 23 Pa.Cons. Stat. § 3301(c).
- DivorceProceedings, THE UNIFIED JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF PENNSYLVANIA.
- DivorceProcedure, THE UNIFIED JUDICIAL SYSTEM OF PENNSYLVANIA.