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Pennsylvania Family Law [Common Cases]

Oct. 29, 2019

Given the personal and financial stakes, family law is an emotionally charged life-changing experience. From marriage and divorce to the distribution of marital property and child custody, common family law cases can have any style of impact, positive or negative, on the parties involved. While Pennsylvania family law provides legal guidelines to assist people, it is crucial to work with a professional attorney who can navigate the ins and outs of family law.

It helps to understand the various types of family law and what each experience may entail.


Perhaps the least exciting, but the most legally significant, portion of the marriage process is obtaining a marriage license. Obtaining this license from the state of Pennsylvania requires coordination since the license is only valid for 60 days after it is issued. As a result, the wedding should theoretically occur sometime during these 60 days after applying for and receiving the marriage license.

Usually, this does not require any litigation before the court. However, consultation with a lawyer can be essential to ensure protection from a pre-nuptial agreement.


Divorce and the resulting distribution of marital property, though not necessarily complicated, can become complicated depending on the situation. However, Pennsylvania is one of the few states to offer a distinction between a "no-fault" and a "fault" divorce. While the outcome is the same, Pennsylvania’s no-fault divorce laws allow one member of the marriage to file a complaint alleging that the marriage has experienced an irretrievable breakdown.

After one spouse files this complaint, usually all that is required is waiting for 90 days, and having both spouses file an affidavit. If there are no challenges to the divorce, the Pennsylvania family court will usually grant the request. However, if one party challenges the divorce, the court will require appearances before the court to decide if this irretrievable breakdown did occur.

In contrast, Pennsylvania fault divorces require specific grounds for the filing of a divorce such as adultery, cruel and barbarous treatment, willful abandonment, and a few other particular grounds. Due to an official reason being necessary for fault-divorces, more court appearances usually accompany such a filing.

Distribution of Marital Property

After divorce, the previously married couple must go through the entire process of dividing and distributing the marriage’s community property. Only marital property is divided, which usually includes anything the couple purchased together after being married.

Any property the spouse owned before the marriage, inheritances from one's family, and gifts to the other person are all considered the property of the individual and will not be separated. Everything else, especially property purchased during the marriage, will be divided up during the divorce process. By having a professional legal counsel, you can significantly increase the chance of the distribution working positively for everyone.

Child Custody

In 2011, Pennsylvania’s child custody family laws underwent a considerable change. This change updated the notion that custody should be awarded to a particular parent based on sex or gender. This gender-neutral policy allowed fathers to become officially recognized as equal to mothers. The other significant change included requiring the court to specifically explain and address the 16 custody factors now required by the Pennsylvania legislature when deciding custody.

Even though courts likely already consider factors such as the history of abuse, domestic violence, and criminal history when deciding custody issues, now they are specifically required to explain them in the case.

Call to schedule a consultation with Kim A. Bodnar, Attorney at Law in our Pittsburgh office.

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

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