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What are the Essential Elements of Family Law?

June 16, 2019

Pennsylvania family law provides the rules to regulate a variety of topics related to marriage, divorce, and peaceful family life, beginning from the application for a marriage license to the division of the marital assets in a divorce.

Elements of family law

Marriage and other domestic partnership agreements

As a preliminary matter, planning a wedding must include consideration of a marriage license. While it seems small, marriage licenses are important since a license is only valid for 60 days and there is also a 72 hour waiting period after receipt of the license.

As a result, the actual wedding day should occur within the 60-day period of validity. Fortunately, the issued marriage license can be used anywhere in Pennsylvania and the requirements are the same:

  • Both adults must appear and apply at a Marriage License Bureau of the Register of Wills with photo identification

  • Both adults must be unrelated

  • If either adult was previously married, either proof of the divorce or proof of the previous spouse’s death must be provided


Adoption is a fairly large component of family law in Pennsylvania considering the fairly complicated process that must occur. According to the Pennsylvania Family Code, termination of the biological parent's rights must first occur. While this termination can either be voluntary or involuntary, it usually occurs in the form of signing consent forms and waiting for the necessary amounts of time.

For example, a child’s birth mother cannot sign a consent form until 72 hours after the birth of the child. Afterward, the process of filling out paperwork and being matched begins and hopefully ends. The final step in the adoption process is the appearance before a judge in family court, who will issue an Adoption Decree to legally finalize the adoption process.

Domestic violence

Because Pennsylvania family law penalizes domestic violence very seriously, charges of domestic violence only occur from situations involving harassment, stalking, and assault. If involved in such a situation, a victim can apply and receive a Protection from Abuse Order. In addition, depending on the respective situation, a person convicted of domestic violence can receive:

  • Monetary penalties

  • Probation

  • Jail time

  • An order to vacate the primary residence

  • Loss of child custody

Considering the high rates of domestic violence statistics, Pennsylvania prioritizes the protection of victims suffering from domestic violence within the state.

Divorce and other marriage dissolutions

Pennsylvania family law also governs the dissolutions of marriage. Following the conclusion of either a “fault” or “no-fault” divorce, the couple will divide and distribute both the assets and debts accumulated throughout the marriage. Pennsylvania law requires the equitable division and distribution of marital property, in which a judge will consider factors such as:

  • Incomes

  • Ages

  • The length of time spent married

  • Health

  • Needs of both parties

In the end, Pennsylvania law prioritizes fairness to both parties.

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

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

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