Divorce Options

My spouse and I both want a divorce. What should we do first?

If both you and your spouse are in agreement that you want a divorce, then you have an uncontested divorce. Before you actually file for divorce in PA, consider whether you are both amicable enough to mediate your divorce, or whether you have any financial or children's issues that might require resolution through a mediation process. This means instead of hiring opposing divorce lawyers to go to court, you both agree to draft your own terms of your marital settlement with the help of a divorce mediator.

The option of divorce mediation is filed under the PA no-fault divorce statute, meaning that in order to establish grounds for a divorce, one does not need to show fault which caused a divorce to be filed, such as adultery, mental cruelty or physical abuse.

If spouses sign an affidavit of consent, they may obtain grounds for a divorce after the passage of a mandatory 90-day cooling off period.

If one spouse does not agree to the divorce, they must have lived separate and apart for at least (1) year from the date of filing before grounds for a divorce can be established. This law changed from 2 years to 1 year in October 2016.

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My spouse just served me with divorce papers. What should I do?

From the time the papers are filed, you have up to (1) year to consent to the divorce. (This law changed from 2 years in October 2016.) And so, while there is no actual deadline to respond, you do have a choice to make. If you ignore it, you could lose legal rights. That's why you should not delay and consult a local divorce attorney in your county as soon as possible to assist you with your legal options for divorce. If you cannot afford legal fees, then contact your PA county courthouse and they can refer you to legal aid.

After the filing has occurred, you then have a choice to complete your divorce either through each of you hiring opposing lawyers or through divorce mediation - that is, if your spouse also agrees to mediate.

Because you may be in shock, denial, or outrage, you may also consider consulting with a divorce coach or a therapist, who can help you process what's happening and begin preparing for divorce emotionally by being in a proper frame of mind to speak with legal counsel and move forward.

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I don't know if we should separate or divorce. What's the difference?

In a divorce, spouses have a signed divorce agreement and file this along with the required divorce paperwork in the county in which they are seeking the divorce. A divorce judge is then assigned to issue a final divorce decree. Similarly, in a separation agreement, the parties have a legally-binding agreement that settles all their affairs. However, they choose not to file a divorce decree with the court. Instead, they may each remain obligated under the separation agreement for an indefinite period of time, subject to future modifications.

Knowing this key difference between divorce or separation, couples may decide to remain separated without a divorce for emotional, financial, tax and estate reasons, or so that one spouse can remain on the other's medical health insurance. Dating is allowed as of the date of separation without financial consequences on their divorce case.

However, if you are concerned about legal ramifications, consult with a legal professional to review your specific situation and decide how to proceed. Always start with a collaborative peacemaker first, if at all possible, to avoid over-protective tactics that can make things worse.

Learn more about Separation in PA  >

I don't want to hurt my spouse, but how do I protect my kids and/or find out my legal rights and entitlements?

This is often the biggest concern spouses have going into a divorce.  Ask yourself, "Do I trust this person to do what's best for the family?"

Usually, if neither financial abuse or untreated addiction exists, you both agreed the marriage is over and you don't want to hurt one another, then your first step is to consult with a divorce mediator

Even if infidelity has occurred, mediation is often successful with proper emotional support.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, maintaining a level of communication with your spouse and educating yourself with legal and financial information now will go a long way toward achieving a fair settlement.

However, if you feel you can't trust your spouse with the children and/or finances in the least, then the smartest first step is to consult with a collaboratively-trained divorce attorney. This is especially true when financial abuse or untreated addiction is present.  You will need to encourage your spouse to also find a collaboratively-trained attorney.

Whether or not a divorce is amicable is always a matter of choice. If you have decided to divorce, but your spouse is not on board, you should first seek legal advice from a private attorney.

Either way, your first step is to learn what your legal rights are - since every divorce is viewed on a case by case basis. Knowledge is the key to protecting yourself, your financial future, and your children. If you are unsure which path to take, first assess whether divorce mediation is right for your situation.

Find out if divorce mediation is right for you  >

What is divorce mediation? How is this different from a collaborative divorce process?

Divorce mediation is a process where spouses are empowered to make all of their own decisions that form the basis of their marital settlement agreement for their divorce--without judges or courts deciding. A good divorce mediator is an entirely neutral party who does not take sides, but rather is concerned with protecting the rights and interests of both spouses and their children.

As the architects of their own agreement in divorce mediation, spouses fairly and efficiently resolve all their legal and financial obligations towards one another as well as all parenting matters involving the welfare and best interests of their children.  If you are concerned with legal issues such as alimony, child support and division of marital property, choose an attorney-mediator who is qualified to offer both legal education and facilitate productive discussion.

A collaborative divorce is another non-litigation option to obtaining a separation or divorce. In a collaborative divorce, each spouse retains their own divorce lawyer and they both sign a document that they will not use the courts to litigate any issues that arise in their matter. Instead, they each voluntarily disclose all of their assets and debts to one another and then engage in a series of 4-way meetings with their respective lawyers to resolve all the outstanding terms in their case which then get incorporated into a marital settlement agreement that is filed with the court. This option is generally more expensive than divorce mediation.

Find out if divorce mediation is right for you  >

Where can I get PA legal separation information?

Contrary to popular belief, the concept of a legal separation does not exist in Pennsylvania. That is, unlike other states, spouses do not need to file a document requesting the court to issue a determination that they are officially separated, often referred to as a separate maintenance order. Instead, spouses may contract privately to physically separate and declare their marriage over. In so doing, they can contract for the division of their property, child support, child custody and spousal support.

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Can you explain the process of legal separation during marriage?

During a marriage, one or both spouses may decide to separate. If this happens, this does not mean that they are legally separated since the concept of legal separation does not exist in Pennsylvania. However, a court could determine that their marriage ended as of the date they physically separated, and thus the values of all of their marital assets and debts could be measured as of that date. In Pennsylvania, spouses need not be physically separated in order to be separated in the eyes of the law. A court can determine that spouses are separated, even if still living under the same roof. The key for this determination is to evaluate at what point has the couple ceased acting like a married couple.

More information about separation in PA >>

I really want to move out of the house, but have been advised not to leave. What should I do?
 

Consult with a competent private divorce attorney first before taking any action to move out of the marital home. Moving out of the marital home can give rise to various legal rights and entitlements, such as interim claims to child and spousal support payments, as well as effect the custody rights of both parents.  Not to mention, moving out of the marital home into another residence with a separate budget of expenses before learning about your financial rights and obligations upon a separation of households is not a wise move from a financial perspective. Often times as well, a spouse can be accused of "abandonment" of the marital home upon moving out which can effect their custody rights in a separation or divorce.

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Alimony in PA

How long do you have to be married to get alimony?

A general rule of thumb used by some Pennsylvania courts, is one year of alimony for every three years of marriage, although this is not a written law in the PA Divorce Code, and therefore should not be viewed as a guarantee.

Also, while a very important factor in the alimony statute, duration of the marriage is just one of 17 different factors of alimony that a court can consider in determining if a case is appropriate for alimony in PA.

In divorce mediation, this 17 factors of alimony are usually a starting point for discussion and negotiation between the spouses or, if litigating, their respective attorneys. However, alimony is ultimately discretionary by the court. The court should evaluate each case separately on its own merits in deciding whether to award a sum of alimony and its duration. When it comes to alimony in divorce mediation, the parties themselves discuss and decide, through the assistance and guidance of their divorce mediator, what is an appropriate amount of alimony to pay that is both fair and realistic, after considering their respective post-divorce budgets.

More information on alimony in PA  >

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What are some general PA alimony guidelines?

Under the PA alimony statute (23 Pa Cons. Stat Section 3701) there are 17 factors in total that a court can consider in deciding whether or not to award alimony. Some of those 17 factors of alimony in PA include: the relative earnings and earning capacities of the spouses, duration of the marriage, contribution of one spouse a homemaker, contribution of one spouse to the education of the other, the standard of living during the marriage, age, and physical and mental health of the parties.

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How do I calculate alimony payments?

Unlike child support, in Pennsylvania there is no set formula for calculating post-divorce alimony payments. Rather, whether or not to award post-divorce alimony lies within the exclusive discretion of the court and based on 17 different factors that it can consider in the Pennsylvania alimony statute (23Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 3701). Post-divorce alimony is not to be confused with temporary spousal support or alimony pendente lite which may be awarded by the court pending the litigation of a divorce, based upon the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines and other applicable law. 

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How much spousal support do I have to pay?

If a choice is made to litigate your divorce matter in court, the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines would apply. The guidelines provide a formula-based calculation for spousal support or alimony pendente lite (APL) which only applies until the final resolution of your matter. The formula calculation is based on a percentage of the difference in the spouses' respective monthly net incomes after any child support payment is factored in. Spousal support or APL is entirely different from post-divorce alimony which is discretionary upon the court and based on a list of 17 factors present in the alimony statute at 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 3701.

In divorce mediation, spouses are provided with the PA support guidelines calculation, only if they request it together. However, they are not bound by the numbers their divorce mediator calculates, but are instead encouraged to negotiate support or alimony amounts that are most fair and that work best for their needs and respective budgets, and to also seek the advice of independent outside counsel before agreeing to any child support amount.

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PA Divorce - Other Most Frequently Asked Questions

I'm not sure if I can afford a divorce. How much does a PA divorce cost?

There are many factors that go into answering more definitely this question for your situation. but generally higher conflict and emotionally-charged tactics are directly proportional to the increase in cost.

A court-contested divorce in Pennsylvania (where you and your spouse each hire your own divorce lawyers), the legal fees alone can cost at least $30-40,000. It is not unheard of for cases to reach $150,000 or more. Needless to say, financial experts say that a divorce can reduce one's net worth up to 75%. Custody evaluations, custody trials, contested alimony payments, and paying a spouse's legal fees are often the biggest expenses in the divorce process. Legal options such as divorce mediation, and emotional guidance like divorce coaching  can reduce legal fees to less than $10,000.

Learn more about costs of divorce in PA  >

What documents do I need to prepare for the PA divorce process?

Getting organized can be overwhelming at a time when things are in disarray. Expect to be asked for current balance statements for all assets, liabilities, income, insurance, tax information, and other related marital documents, such as the marriage certificate. Appraisals for businesses owned, retirement accounts, market value of real estate are usually also needed. Use a checklist for divorce to help manage your document gathering efforts.

If you and your spouse have no disagreements over children or finances, you may be eligible to file the paperwork yourselves, without a lawyer and receive your decree in as little as 3 months. In Pennsylvania, there is a 3-step filing process, plus the 90-day mandatory wait period.

Download a divorce document checklist  >

List of Forms to File for Divorce  >

Does a memorandum of understanding mean I am divorced by law?

No. There are some other private divorce mediation services who assist spouses in obtaining a "memorandum of understanding" of the terms of their divorce. Although this is a valuable service, this memorandum is not a legally binding document. Moreover, it leaves clients at the doorstep in that they must then retain a private lawyer to draft a formal agreement of their understanding and then are left to file for the divorce on their own without any guidance or direction, unless they pay additional fees to a legal professional who can guide them through the administrative divorce filing process in PA. (Main Line Family Law Center helps clients to obtain a fully comprehensive and legally binding marital settlement agreement, and also file the divorce with the county court. In addition, we will also prepare the necessary paperwork and provide clients with the specific steps in which to file an uncontested divorce in their county to obtain a final decree. Our services also include providing clients with additional support in obtaining any Qualified Domestic Relations Order(s) that may be needed in their matter prior to the divorce being granted.)

What is marital property in PA and how is its division determined?

Marital property in PA is any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage, regardless of whose name the property is in. However, marital property is subject to some exceptions as explained in Section 3501(a), Property Rights, of the PA Divorce Code. The actual value of the marital property is measured: (1) as of the date of the parties' separation, or (2)if the parties are involved in court-contested litigation, as of trial date for the division of the property.

PA is an equitable distribution state meaning that, should spouses go to court, the Court retains discretion over how the marital property gets divided, whether 50/50, 60/40 or some other percentage of division. The court may refer to any one or all of 13 factors listed in the equitable distribution statute (Section 3502 of the PA Divorce Code) to determine what it deems to be a fair and equitable split of the marital property. In divorce mediation, however, spouses themselves decide together what is the fairest split of the marital property.

Learn about how you can divide marital property in the mediation process

What is child support in PA and how is it calculated?

Child support is a payment that one parent makes to the other upon a separation and/or a divorce to help cover a child’s basic food, clothing and shelter needs in a household. Payment amounts are determined in Pennsylvania based on the PA State Guidelines which apply both the relative incomes of both parents as well as the physical custody arrangement the parents have with their children.  Once the court awards the amount of child support to be paid, one or both parents may appeal the award, or a parent may ask the court for a deviation of the award if they can establish special circumstances for the deviation. Child support is modifiable by law based on a change in circumstances. In mediation, parents are not strictly bound by the PA support guidelines and may negotiate another amount that most realistically suits the basic needs of their children.

Preparing Emotionally for Divorce

I feel terrible about getting divorced. How long will I feel this way?

It is very common to feel sad, depressed, rejected and angry, or guilty at various points throughout the divorce process. It makes sense as you are processing the loss of a marriage that you thought would last forever or that has failed to live up to your expectations.

It is important, however, to know that the stages of loss and grief in divorce, which include anger and resentment, will pass. They do not last forever. After healthy and appropriate processing, you will find your way to acceptance and be able to take steps to rebuild your life. There is no exact amount of time that it will take, but those who seek out support either in a group setting or with a professional coach or counselor often find the road to divorce recovery that much easier.

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This is so overwhelming. I don't know what to do. Where do I get help?

It is normal to feel overwhelmed with the process and all of the decisions you have to make. That's why you may want to get clear before you make any major decisions. We recommend Clarity Coaching because the answers are already inside of you. A Clarity Coach can help you uncover what decisions are best for you and your family.

How can I get a fair result if my spouse is bullying me?

Knowledge really is power. The more you know your rights, the less likely you are to be intimidated. Seek out information, counsel and support so you can be well-informed and confident about your rights. You can also work with a divorce and life coach who can help you make a lasting shift out of the victim role so you can be more empowered in all aspects of your life.

If you have felt bullied in the past, it is important not to make any decisions or agreements of any kind before seeking the advice of legal counsel. The second step is to notice that you have felt like a victim to the bullying in the past, and then commit to yourself that you are not going to act like the victim going forward.

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