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DIVORCE LAW

Divorce can be an extremely difficult time for everyone involved. The following information will help you understand how Pennsylvania treats divorce, your options for dividing money and property and some common terms thrown around that are related to divorce and marriage.

There are three cases in which courts can grant divorces:

  • “No-fault” grounds: the couple mutually decides to end the marriage (or one party seeks an end after they have lived separately for over 12 months), agrees to all monetary and property claims and declares the marriage to be “irretrievably broken.”
  • One spouse is “innocent and injured” by an action of the other spouse, including: willful and malicious desertion for over one year, adultery, cruel treatment endangering the spouse’s safety, bigamy, imprisonment for two or more years and committing burdensome and intolerable “indignities.”
  • Ongoing mental health institutionalization of at least 18 months, with no prospect of discharge.

Money and Property

A court can dictate spousal support (during separation but before the divorce is finalized) and/or alimony (ongoing financial support after the divorce), based on a range of factors:

  • Earnings
  • Physical, mental and emotional conditions
  • Their sources of income, including retirement and medical benefits
  • Inheritances
  • Duration of the marriage
  • One spouse contributing to the other's education, training or increased earnings
  • Who had custody of the children
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Education of each spouse
  • Assets and liabilities
  • Property brought into the marriage
  • One spouse being a homemaker
  • Needs of each spouse
  • Marital misconduct, including abuse or adultery
  • Tax ramifications of alimony
  • Whether spouse seeking alimony lacks sufficient property to provide for reasonable needs
  • Whether spouse seeking alimony can support self through work


When it comes to dividing money and property, Pennsylvania’s law requires “equitable distribution,” where each spouse receives a percentage of money and property based on many of the same factors as considered in alimony above (except for marital misconduct).

For homes (or other co-owned property), spouses can sell the property and split the proceeds or one can buy the other out to retain full ownership. (However, this needs to be resolved before the divorce decree; otherwise, you become co-owners and can no longer address it in the divorce. The matter would have to be decided in civil court as a real estate matter, which would take more time and expense.)

MORE ABOUT PENNSYLVANIA LAW

"COMMON LAW" MARRIAGES

While Pennsylvania used to recognize common law marriages (where people lived together for an extended time and considered themselves as spouses), the law has since changed and spouses must be legally married by a judicial, governmental or religious officiant.

"LEGAL SEPARATION"

Legal separation is not recognized in Pennsylvania. However, the date of
separation is important for a range of other reasons, so be sure to keep track of this.

ANNULMENT

Annulment is very rare. Cases that qualify for annulment include: bigamy (one partner married a second person without divorcing the first); where one spouse was not capable of getting married due to a mental disorder; and marriages involving minors, intoxication, fraud, duress, coercion or force.

HOW WE CAN HELP

We will obtain a divorce decree for clients who do not need the court to divide money or property. If needed, however, our divorce lawyers will draft settlement agreements regarding money and property for the spouses.

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THE COUNTY COURT PROCESS


FAYETTE COUNTY

Complaints in divorce are filed at the Prothonotary at the courthouse. You may file a request for the appointment of a Master to hear money or property claims with the Prothonotary, which will then be presented to the Court Administrator. For local rules, go to www.co.fayette.pa.us.

GREENE COUNTY

Complaints in divorce and requests for the appointment of a Master to hear money or property claims are filed at the Prothonotary at the courthouse. For local rules, go to www.co.greene.pa.us.

SOMERSET COUNTY

Complaints in divorce and requests for the appointment of a Master to hear money or property claims are filed at the Prothonotary at the courthouse. For local rules, go to www.co.somerset.pa.us.

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Complaints in divorce are filed with the Prothonotary at the courthouse, and requests for appointment of a Master to hear money or property claims are presented to the Family Court Judge. The Court Administrator’s divorce office must receive copies of all filings. For local rules, go to www.washingtoncourts.us.

The divorce law is found at 23 Pa.C.S. Chapter 33. For more online information, go to www.palawhelp.org.

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