At-Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania

The Grounds

Single womanAs a Pennsylvania resident, you can choose to file a no-fault or an at-fault divorce, based on the grounds that you state for seeking to terminate your marriage. The principal reason to file an at-fault divorce is that you may obtain some advantage in the division of marital debts and assets, or in support/custody proceedings.

The Legally Acceptable Reasons for Filing an At-Fault Divorce

There are only six different bases that courts in Pennsylvania will accept to support an at-fault divorce petition:

  • One of the parties to the marriage was unfaithful, or committed adultery
  • Your spouse was still legally married to someone else at the time you were married
  • Your spouse has been convicted of a crime that will result in a minimum of two years of incarceration
  • Your spouse has been out of the marital home, without reasonable cause (military or other type of service, hospitalization, etc.) for more than one year
  • Your spouse engaged in behavior that put your life or health in danger
  • Your spouse engaged in behavior that made your life unbearable or extremely difficult

The Legal Justifications for No-Fault Divorce

There is no requirement in Pennsylvania that either party be at fault when a divorce complaint has been filed. Either spouse may seek a no-fault divorce if:

  • The other spouse has been institutionalized because of a mental disorder. The period of institutionalization must be at least 18 months, and there must not be a reasonable expectation that the spouse will be released within 18 months of the finalization of the divorce.
  • There is mutual consent to the divorce. In such a situation, each party must separately file an affidavit attesting to their belief that the marriage cannot be salvaged. The judge will generally wait 90 days before finalizing the divorce, but may do so without a hearing.
  • The parties have lived apart for at least one year and a complaint is filed stating that the marriage bonds are “irretrievably broken.” If both parties agree, the divorce will generally be granted. If not, though, the court will typically conduct a hearing to determine whether there is a chance of reconciliation, and may order marital counseling.

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Montgomery County Bar Association
Pennsylvania Bar Association
International Academy of Collaborative Professionals