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Jurisdiction/Venue in Divorce

Under Pennsylvania law, one of the parties to the divorce action must have been a bona fide resident of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to the commencement of the divorce. Bona fide residence is defined as actual residence with domiciliary intent. Domicile denotes the place where a person has his or her true, fixed, permanent home with the intention of returning after any absence. In other words, where an individual sleeps, takes her meals, receives mail, and stores personal possession.

Generally, an action may only be brought in the county where one of the party resides. There are two exceptions allowing a divorce action to proceed in a different county including by mutual agreement of the parties in writing or by participating in the action started in a different county. If two divorce actions are commenced within 90 days of each other, the county where a party resides or where the last marital residence was located gets to determine which county should handle the matter. If neither county is the location of the last marital residence and no party resides in either county, the county that received a complaint in divorce first can make the determination as far as which county will proceed.

Parties should be careful about agreeing to, or participating in, divorce actions outside of their home counties if property distribution and/or other issues such as custody and support may be raised during the divorce. A divorce action may need to be transferred to the county where the bulk of the property is located or where the children reside for custody or where one of the parties reside for support. This will likely result in the expense of having to file a new complaint in the appropriate county as well as the expense and delay of petitioning to have the matter transferred. On the other hand, parties with no issues relating to the divorce may benefit from a cheaper filing fee by choosing a county other than their own for the divorce action.

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