The divorce process in Pennsylvania depends the type of Divorce you or your spouse files. However, the following process is a general breakdown of the divorce proceeding in Pennsylvania:
1. File And Serve Divorce Complaint:
To obtain a divorce in Pennsylvania, you must file the complaint along with a copy of the marriage certificate, a domestic relations information sheet and a filing fee. Keep in mind that the complaint and its accompanying documents will vary slightly depending on the grounds of divorce sought but the basic documents are the divorce complaint, the domestic relations information sheet and the filing fee. That said, a fault divorce requires that a counseling notice is attached. A no fault/ irretrievable breakdown divorce requires both a counseling notice and an affidavit confirming that the mandatory one year period of separation has been satisfied. The documents must be filed with the local family court and the complaint must be served on the respondent (ex-spouse) within thirty (30) days of filing with the court. Service may be made through personal service by an approved individual, certified and regular mail or by acceptance of service. You must also file proof of service on the defendant by filing an affidavit of service with the Court.
2. Respondent’s Answer:
The Respondent (ex-spouse) will have an opportunity to respond and present their own claims. They have twenty (20) days (or thirty (30) days if not by personal service) from being served to object to allegations contained in the complaint. If the respondent does not respond or responds beyond the protected ( 20 days for personal service and 30 days for if not by personal service), then the filing spouse may ask the court to proceed without the other party and default judgment may be obtained.
3. Bill of Particulars:
Anytime a fault divorce is filed, a Bill of Particulars would be required from the filing spouse where the spouse will have to list specifically what fault grounds is sought with extensive facts supporting the divorce claim.
4. Discovery, Apprisements and Income statement:
In most divorce cases, there will be a division of property, counsel fees, and spousal/child support involved. As such, both parties to a divorce are required to submit certain documents and both parties are entitled to seek documents related to finances through the process of discovery. Furthermore, both parties will most likely be required to file an apprisement of all property owned as well as an income and expense document as part of the financial disclosure requirement. This of course includes any recent tax returns and pay stubs.
5. Pre-hearing Conference:
In almost all of Pennsylvania Counties, the claims are first heard by a Permanent Master in a conference-like setting. The parties submit the required documents mentioned above along with a memo that states their arguments and reasoning and the Permanent Master makes a recommendation of a resolution to the parties. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the case then proceeds to trial before a judge. The specific arrangement of having a pretrial hearing first varies from county to county. Check your local county rules before filing divorce. Retaining an professional attorney in family law ensures that you are compliant with all your local county rules. At times, the complexity of the case requires a consolidated case management. In such cases, one judge presides over the case and tries to find a mutual resolution for the parties.
Note: Most of child custody claims are initially heard by a Permanent master.
If the parties are unsatisfied with the recommendation of the Master in the conference or the trial judge presiding the consolidated case management, the parties may appeal their case to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
7. Enforcement of the divorce order:
Still with the granting of the final divorce order and its final terms, some parties may not adhere to the terms. This can be partly due to the fact that some parties fail to retain adequate legal counsel during the divorce process, leaving them unhappy with the terms of the finalized terms. This is not to say that the situation is irreparable and hard to enforce the terms even after the end of the divorce proceeding. There are court proceedings that you can take to enforce the terms of the divorce. Moreover, when it comes to child custody and child support, the court is most likely willing to reconsider the arrangement if circumstances change in a drastic way as to warrant a change in the child custody/support arrangement. However, when it comes to division of property, the court is unlikely to reconsider the terms of the division unless extenuating circumstances exist such as the presence of fraud at the time of property division.
For a more comprehensive information on the Divorce proceedings in Pennsylvania, Please see this detailed booklet: