Pennsylvania

Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

Generally speaking, Pennsylvania is a fairly unique commonwealth when it comes to the operation of family law and divorce. The Pennsylvania Divorce Code, most recently amended in 2005, allows for filing of divorce on both Fault and No Fault grounds if the parties have resided in the commonwealth for at least six months prior to the initiation of the divorce action.

A party filing on Fault grounds must establish one of six categories: Desertion, Cruel and Barbarous Treatment, Bigamy, Incarceration, Indignities or Adultery.  While the Fault option is available, most parties do not file for divorce on fault grounds for a couple reasons.

Firstly, although the court may consider fault in making determinations of alimony, they may not consider it in equitable distribution. Secondly, filing for divorce on fault grounds is a more extensive litigious process, and thus much more expensive for the party filing for divorce.

Therefore, most parties opt to file for divorce on No Fault grounds, which can be established either by mutual consent of both parties or by a unilateral action taken by one party where the couple has lived separate and apart for a period of two years.

It is important to note that in Pennsylvania there is no such thing as “legal separation.” While legal separation does not exist, the date of separation is still important for making determinations regarding support and distribution of marital property.

Parties generally establish separation by cessation of a sexual relationship, separation of finances and holding out to the community that they are indeed living separate and apart.

Property Division, Debts, and Asset Division in Pennsylvania Divorce

When it comes to the division of property pursuant to a divorce action, Pennsylvania is an Equitable Distribution state. To determine property distribution, the court will take into consideration several factors such as length of the marriage, parties’ ages and health, parties’ earning capacity, etc. A determination must be made as to what assets between the parties are marital.

Marital property is defined simply as all property acquired by either party during the course of the marriage, prior to the date of final separation. Property acquired prior to the marriage or after the date of separation is excluded from marital property, as are gifts and inheritances received by either party at any point before, during, or after the marriage.

Additionally, any property excluded by an agreement, for example a pre-nuptial agreement, is also excluded from marital property. Parties must submit a compete list of their assets in an Inventory and Appraisement pleading.

This aids the parties in compiling their Marriage Settlement Agreement, or MSA, which is the final determination of distribution of marital property. Spousal support is generally applicable prior to the filing of a divorce  complaint, although it is possible for it to continue while the divorce is pending before the court.

The important difference between Alimony Pendente Lite and spousal support is that there are defenses to the dependent spouse’s entitlement to receive spousal support. Those defenses are the same as fault grounds for divorce. If any of those grounds can be proven, the dependent spouse will not be entitled to support.

Maintenance, Spousal Support, and Alimony in Pennsylvania

There are three forms of spousal support– Alimony Pendente Lite, or APL, which is a Latin phrase meaning “alimony pending litigation,” Spousal Support, and Alimony.

APL is a temporary support order granted to a party while divorce litigation is pending. The intention of an APL award is to provide both parties an equal opportunity to litigate, maintain and defend the divorce action. An APL award can not be entered simultaneously with an award of spousal support.

The second form of support that may be awarded is Spousal Support. Spousal support will be awarded to assure a dependent spouse a reasonable living allowance. The duty to pay spousal support arises out of the marriage and terminates when the marriage ends. Upon decree of divorce, the award of spousal support will cease.

Lastly there is alimony. This is what most people think of when they consider support obligations to an ex-spouse. Alimony is an order of support granted upon the decree of divorce. The claim for alimony must be raised prior to entry of the divorce decree, or else it is waived.

Alimony is awarded to ensure that the reasonable needs of a person are met, and can last for a definite or indefinite period of time. Cohabitation or remarriage by the party receiving alimony and/or death of the party receiving alimony will terminate the obligation to pay.

Child Support and Child Custody in Pennsylvania

Finally, there is the issue of custody. In Pennsylvania, custody actions may be initiated as entirely separate proceedings from divorce or support. This is a vast contrast from other states.

Parties will typically be required to participate in educational and/or mediation sessions prior to initiating an action for custody. Custody is an extremely fact-sensitive area and the courts will determine an appropriate schedule based on the best interests of the children.