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A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Divorce Lawyer Answers Some Frequently Asked Questions

Is an “at fault” divorce still possible in Pennsylvania?

The first “no-fault” divorce laws were enacted in the 1970s. By 2010, some form of no-fault proceeding became available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. While the majority of divorces are granted in Pennsylvania based on the state's no-fault law, it is still possible to pursue an “at fault” case as well. Acceptable bases of fault (or “grounds”) are:

  • Intentional desertion lasting a year or more

  • Adultery

  • Extreme cruelty, whether by physical or emotional mistreatment

  • Bigamy

  • Criminal conviction punished by imprisonment for at least two years

  • Indignities that make the innocent spouse's life intolerable and burdensome

  • Long term mental disorder resulting in institutionalization

The plaintiff spouse in an at-fault divorce case must testify under oath to facts that support one or more of these grounds. The court may grant no-fault divorces in one of two situations. The first situation is mutual consent, which is when the spouses agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken. They must still file a complaint and wait for a 90 day period.

The second is an irretrievable breakdown in which the defendant spouse will not consent, but the court concludes that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Another factor is that the couple has lived apart for at least two years.

Does Pennsylvania law recognize legal separations?

No, Pennsylvania does not have a process for establishing a legal separation. As noted above, proof of living apart for minimum time periods must exist in some divorce cases.

I am new to Pennsylvania. How long must I be a resident before I can file for divorce?

At least six months' residency is necessary. A statement of residency in the affidavit filed with the complaint is usually all that is required. Note also that the residency requirement may be satisfied if a spouse has been a resident for at least six months, even if you have not.

How long can a former spouse expect to get alimony?

Alimony awards are subject to the discretion of the court, and there is no guarantee that there will be an award at all. If an award is made, however, a very general rule is one year of alimony for every three years of marriage. The court will also consider numerous other factors, however, including relative earnings of the spouses, level of education and relative assets or liabilities.

Is it true that only ex-wives are awarded alimony?

No. Gender is not among the factors the court may consider when determining either if alimony is to be awarded. If this is the case, there is also the factor of the size or duration of the award.

Is “spousal support” the same as alimony?

No. Spousal support is payable only while a contested divorce is working its way through court. This process may be a matter of years in some of the more populous counties. The amount depends on a percentage of the difference between the spouses' net incomes.

NOTE: This is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.