Many spouses who are separated or contemplating divorce need to know more about the Pennsylvania Divorce Code, which was enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1980. Pennsylvania was one of the last states to adopt no-fault divorce laws. Previously, spouses could obtain a divorce from bed-and-board (divorce a mensa et thoro), which was a legal separation, or an absolute divorce (divorce a vinculo matrimonii) based upon fault. Today, things are simpler, but it is important to learn about the divorce laws and develop a plan as soon as you realize divorce may be a possibility. The attorneys of Pollock Begg are compassionate advisors who can help you to understand the intricacies of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code and make plans for your future.
What do you need to know about divorce laws?
Divorce is a creature of state law, and as such, varies from state to state. During the 1970s and 1980s, most states adopted no-fault divorce laws combined with comprehensive schemes for equitable distribution or division of marital property. These laws were a natural extension of the married women’s property laws that were enacted early in the 20th century, giving women the right to own property separately from their husbands’ property. The married women’s property laws did not go far enough, however, in ensuring women had sufficient property to support themselves after a divorce, and divorced men universally despised alimony, which was the remedy provided by state legislatures to keep divorced women off the welfare roles. No-fault divorce was viewed as a solution to the problem of impoverished divorcees, and while it may have contributed to other problems, it has proven effective for that purpose.
How long does a divorce take?
Most divorces filed in Pennsylvania proceed under no-fault grounds. There are two paths to a no-fault divorce under Pennsylvania law: (1) If both spouses are willing to sign consent forms, there is a 90-day waiting period, which begins to run when the first paper (a complaint) is filed in court; or (2) If one spouse will not sign a consent form, the spouse who wants a divorce will have to wait up to two years from the date of separation. It is not necessary to file a divorce action in court if both spouses do not consent, and in some cases, we advise clients not to file.
When divorcing spouses want to resolve economic issues such as dividing marital property or awarding alimony, the process may take a little longer. The vast majority of divorce cases are eventually settled, but for those cases that do not settle, these economic issues must be decided by a judge. Family division judges are the busiest judges in the courthouse, so there can be long waiting periods to get an appointment for a meeting or hearing. The court rules require spouses to complete their investigations of money and property before they come to court, and the judges have enacted procedures which encourage settlement outside of court by creating obstacles to the courtroom. In most cases, a fully litigated divorce takes six months to more than a year, but most cases are settled after the investigation and initial skirmishes.
How much does a divorce cost?
Except for no-asset cases, the cost of a divorce is very difficult to predict. The cost depends upon a number of factors that cannot be effectively controlled, such as the level of emotional conflict, the difficulty of obtaining complete, accurate information and the court’s schedule and procedures. At Pollock Begg, we are sensitive to our clients’ needs and offer a range of services and personnel to staff each case.
Call our office to make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable attorneys so you can best understand how Pennsylvania divorce laws affect your circumstances.