Making the decision to pursue a divorce can be a difficult choice. Divorce is a legal process for dissolving the marital relationship and severing the financial ties between married people. It is also an emotional process of transitioning to independence, exploring other pathways, and changing the focus of one’s life. It can be a time of emotional and financial turmoil, because change can be difficult. Yet, divorce can also be an opportunity for growth, a fresh start, and a change that leads to contentment. At Pollock Begg, our Pittsburgh divorce lawyers are problem solvers who pursue the most likely path leading to a solution that fits the needs of our client.
Prior to 1980, divorce was very difficult to obtain in Pennsylvania, even when spouses agreed that they had irreconcilable differences. The fault divorce laws that were prevalent from the 1920’s until the 1980’s demanded that people air their dirty laundry (or invent some) in order to get a divorce and move on with their lives. After hearing extensive testimony about the hardships that were caused by the 1929 divorce law, our General Assembly enacted the no-fault divorce laws that exist today in Pennsylvania.
How do I get a divorce under Pennsylvania law?
In Pennsylvania, the first paper filed in court to get a divorce is called a “complaint.” There is a form for a divorce complaint, based on language that is prescribed by law, which is not intended to be alarming or insulting. The divorce complaint must be properly served on the defendant, either by certified mail or process server. In cases where the defendant has a lawyer, the defendant’s lawyer may be willing to sign a paper accepting service of the complaint. When the complaint is properly served, the time clock begins to run.
After 90 days have elapsed (and not a day sooner), the plaintiff and defendant are permitted to sign consent forms if they wish to be divorced. If both spouses sign, the court may proceed. If a spouse does not sign, then the court may not proceed. A spouse may withhold consent to a divorce for up to two years from the date of the marital separation. At that point, the court may proceed without the consent of both spouses.
What are claims in divorce?
Some spouses pursue a simple divorce without asking for money or property. If the plaintiff or defendant want money or property to be considered in their divorce, however, they must file claims. Claims in divorce create the right, but not obligation, to request money or property such as equitable distribution of marital property, alimony, spousal support, or legal fees. The court will address these claims only if one of the parties takes further steps to pursue them. Yet, if claims are not raised in the divorce, they will be waived when the divorce becomes final.
How long does it take?
At a minimum, it takes 90 days to complete a simple no-fault divorce. There are no shortcuts. Some couples negotiate an overall settlement during the waiting period, so that they can complete the process as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Others contest every issue, which can take months or years. The legal process is not rapid, because our courts are overcrowded. The Family Division courts handle more cases each year than any other division, except possibly the criminal courts. It is impossible to predict the amount of time and money that someone will spend in pursuing a divorce, unless the case is settled. Fortunately, the majority of cases are settled, after passing through an initial stage where some issues are contested or an investigation must be performed.
At Pollock Begg, our entire law firm is dedicated to the practice of family law litigation, settlement and appeals. The experience level of our attorneys ranges from a few years to several decades. We have handled simple divorces to the most complex, high-value economic cases and high-conflict custody disputes. We keep up with the latest developments of the law, and often we make the law through appeals and involvement with legislative initiatives. We are recognized at the state and national level for our achievements and service to the family law community in Pittsburgh.
If you need representation in family law matters, our receptionist is waiting for your call, to connect you with an attorney who can meet your needs.