In order to file for Divorce in Pennsylvania, one of the parties must reside in the state for at least six months. Divorce is filed in a state where a party lives, not in the state where the parties got married. Normally, you file the complaint in the county where you reside, however, if both parties agree and you have no assets, you can file the divorce in another county in the state even if no one resides there. We file our simple, no asset divorce cases in Cameron County since the initial filing fee is lower than most counties.
When you file your divorce complaint, you will need to provide a cover sheet providing notice to the other party that you are filing for divorce and attach it to the complaint for divorce. You can include various claims when you file for divorce, including division of assets (equitable distribution), alimony pendente lite, alimony, counsel fees and costs, special relief, as well as claims for child support and custody if you have children. You would raise the count for equitable distribution if you have assets and debt to divide. Even if the assets and debt are not in joint names, you may still be entitled to a share of the assets since the increase in value of an asset during a marriage is considered marital. You would raise a count for Alimony Pendente Lite if you are the dependent spouse, earning less than the other spouse even if you are the one you cheated. Aside from a marriage being very short (under a year), there is seldom a reason that a spouse who earns less would not get Alimony Pendente Lite or APL. Likewise, you would also raise Alimony which is a request that your money from your spouse continue after the divorce is final. You should always raise counsel fees and costs asking that the Court have your spouse contribute, although, this is seldom awarded. You may need to raise special relief which is a remedy which allows a court to put in orders before the final divorce. You may need this if your spouse suddenly decides to liquidate assets or sell stock or take large withdraws from the retirement plant. Custody and child support can be included in the filing of divorce but do not have to be included. You can always file them separately either before or after a divorce is filed.
Normally, the court will wait to hear those claims until you are living separately but it varies by county.
If you are served with a divorce complaint, you may wish to file an Answer. This is especially important if you wish to raise Alimony. If you fail to file an answer, all allegations are deemed denied and you can still raise your claims prior to the divorce going through.
Every county in Pennsylvania have their own local rules. This makes it a challenge for the new practitioner or even an experienced practitioner to practice in other counties. While the law is supposed to be the same in the state, the local rules will determine procedures and forms required to file. In addition, the application of the law and interpretation may vary from county to county. Some counties will require a special form that another county does not require. In addition, in some counties you not only have to file the complaint but you will have to file a separate motion in order to get it scheduled for a hearing. It is always wise to consult the local rules of the county as well as the state rules.
Filing for divorce is not something that is easily accomplished without an attorney. While there are areas of family law that are more self-help friendly, doing your own divorce is not one of them. There are deadlines and very specific forms that must be filed in a certain order. This is not to say it cannot be done without an attorney but will require the ability to follow directions and keep track of dates, etc. Just like every county has their own rules, they each set their own fee. Every county has a different fee to file for divorce and that fee varies depending on what claims you raise. If you have custody issues, it is usually cheaper to include it when filing the divorce as some counties charge more if you bring it separately outside of a divorce complaint. You should check with your local Prothonotary office to see what the cost is to file and be prepared with a money order if they do not take personal checks. You should also check to see how many copies of a complaint you need to file. You are going to want to have one for yourself and one you can serve.
Once you have filed your complaint for divorce, you will have thirty days to serve it on the other side. Service can be accomplished by personal service, wherein someone over the age of 18, unrelated identifies and hands it to the defendant and then signs an affidavit verifying that fact. It can be done by certified mail, return receipt requested, restricted delivery, so you can prove it was the defendant that was served. If you serve this way you will also need to file an affidavit of signature wherein the plaintiff verifies that the defendant signed the green card. Finally, the defendant can accept service of the divorce. They sign a form agreeing to accept service. You must prove to the court service was accomplished by one of these methods within 30 days of the date you filed your complaint. You will need to file documentation to the court.
Once the complaint is served, this starts the 90 day cooling off period for a divorce based on mutual consent. If you have not been separated for two years, 90 days after the divorce is served is the soonest the parties can consent to a divorce. You will not be able to get divorced before this time and again, paperwork still needs to be submitted to the court on or after the 90th day by both parties. If one person does not consent, you may have to wait the two year period. If both parties consent on or after the 90th day, the divorce can be finalized if the parties either have no claims that need to be resolved or if the parties have a fully executed property settlement agreement. If you cannot agree, then you will need to get grounds for divorce and proceed to a divorce hearing.