Divorce FAQ's

Common divorce terms and their meaning in Pennsylvania

Alimony: A court order made during a divorce proceeding that one spouse pay support to his or her spouse or former spouse.

Alimony pendente lite: A temporary court order that alimony must be paid during the divorce proceedings.

Irretrievable breakdown: The breakup between spouses with no reasonable likelihood of reconciliation.

Separation: When spouses are no longer cohabitating. This can occur even when spouses are still living in the same residence.

Fault grounds for divorce:

  • Abandonment of the innocent spouse without reasonable cause for a period of at least one year
  • Cruel and barbarous treatment which endangered the life or health of the innocent spouse (includes domestic violence)
  • Bigamy
  • Adultery
  • A prison sentence of two or more years
  • Committed such indignities against the innocent spouse as to make his or her condition intolerable and life burdensome

No-fault divorce: Neither spouse is claiming that the other is responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.

Annulment: The voiding of a marriage by the court.

Divorce Master: Attorneys who are appointed to hear contested divorce cases. Divorce masters can hear testimony and file reports and recommendations to the court.

Equitable distribution: The process by which the court determines how to divide marital property. The court will divide property in a manner which it deems to be fair, but not necessarily even.

Marital property: Property acquired by either spouse during the marriage and the increase in value of some non-marital property.

Marital Settlement Agreement: A written agreement made outside of court between spouses which addresses issues such as alimony, property distribution and child support and custody. This agreement can become part of court's divorce decree.

Tenancy by entirety: The manner in which most married couples own real estate. This type of tenancy means that each spouse owns the entire property and has the right to the entire property if the other spouse dies. As a practical matter, this type of tenancy protects the property from creditors of one spouse and prevents one spouse from selling the property without the permission of the other spouse.

Can my spouse prevent me from obtaining a divorce?

No. Even if your spouse won't consent to a divorce, you can still obtain a no-fault divorce decree after you and your spouse have been separated for at least two years.

How long does a divorce take?

That can vary from case to case. However, if both parties agree on the terms of their divorce, our divorce attorneys can usually complete a no-fault divorce in 4-5 months.

Can I be required to attend counseling?

Yes. The court can order that the parties attend up to three counseling sessions if one of the parties requests it. The court can also require counseling if it believes that there is a possibility that the parties may reconcile.

If my spouse and I agree on the terms of our divorce, do we have to have a hearing in front of a judge?

No. If you and your spouse both agree to a no-fault divorce and do not need the court to make a decision on support or division of property, the court can issue a divorce decree once 90 days have passed from the date that the divorce complaint is filed. The court will not need to hold a hearing in this situation.

Why does the date of separation matter for my divorce case?

The date of separation starts the 1 year waiting period (2 years for separation prior to December 2016) for obtaining a no-fault divorce that is not consented to by both parties. The date of separation is also important for determining whether property or income is marital property. The date of separation is defined as the date on which the parties begin living "separate and apart." This definition can be confusing because it doesn't necessarily require that the parties live in separate residences. If the parties were not living in separate residences, the court will determine the date of separation by evaluating a number of different factors. However, regardless of living situations, once a divorce complaint is served on the other spouse, the parties are considered by the court to be separated.

Is there legal separation in Pennsylvania?

No. Pennsylvania does not recognize legal separation as a marital status.

Can I receive support while the divorce is pending?

Yes. Spousal support is money that is paid prior to a divorce action being filed. Support paid during the divorce proceedings is called alimony pendente lite (APL). Support paid after the divorce is final is called alimony. In determining how much spousal support or APL should be paid the court will consider the duration of the parties' marriage. Pennsylvania utilizes support guidelines that must be followed for both spousal support and APL. There are no guidelines for alimony. Instead, the court weighs 17 factors in determining how much alimony should be paid.

What is considered marital property?

In general, marital property is any property acquired during the marriage and prior to the date of separation even if it is in only one spouse's name. The exception to this rule is if the property was given as a gift or was the result of an inheritance. Property acquired prior to the marriage is considered separate property. However, if that separate property increased in value during the marriage, then the increase is considered marital property.

How are assets divided during a divorce?

In Pennsylvania, marital property is divided using the theory of equitable distribution. The court will evaluate a number of factors in determining how marital assets should be distributed fairly. The court does not have to divide the property 50/50.

What if my spouse has a debts that were acquired during the marriage?

Debts incurred by one spouse during the marriage and prior to the date of separation are considered marital debts and are the responsibility of both parties. Even if a credit card is in only one spouse's name, if the card was used prior to the date of separation, then the resulting debt is considered marital debt.

What if my spouse and I have agreed on distribution of property and assets?

If you and your spouse have already determined how you will divide your martial property then your attorneys can prepare a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA). The PSA can be submitted to the court and can become part of your divorce decree. Parties can also have a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) which includes the PSA and would address the additional issues of support and custody of children.