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Examining the basics of divorce

Divorce in Pennsylvania may be complicated. What's more, the results of a divorce may be life-altering and long-lasting.

A person and their spouse have to reside in the state for a least six months before they can file for a divorce. If they mutually consent, the court can grant the divorce 90 days after the service of the complaint upon a spouse and the filing of their consent affidavits. If only one spouse wants to terminate the marriage, a court can approve the divorce after two years from the filing of this action, if it finds that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the couple lived separate and apart for at least two years.

The only defenses to a no-fault divorce are that the couple did not live separate and apart for at least two years or that the marriage is not irretrievably broken. In a contested divorce, the spouse must usually show that they were innocent and injured, or that the facts claimed by the other spouse are false. Courts can require three counseling sessions within a 90-day period if indignities are claimed as divorce grounds and either spouse requested counseling, counseling is requested in a no-fault divorce or in certain situations where the children in the marriage are under 16.

Absent the court' prohibition, a spouse may enter the marital residence before the divorce is final with a court order. If a spouse threatened or committed abuse, a court may order the spouse to stay away from the residence for up to three years.

Couples who intend to divorce should enter a written separation and settlement agreement on division of property, child and spousal support, payment of debts and legal fees, health and life insurance and child custody and visitation. Court may divide property acquired before and during the marriage, known as marital property, if it is not addressed in the separation agreement.

Courts have the power to divide real estate, household goods, bank accounts and other assets. The court's final decree of divorce may also address child custody and visitation, alimony, counseling fees and enforcement of any agreements that the parties entered.

A divorce can be entered even if a spouse does not respond to a divorce complaint or seek legal representation. An attorney can help assure that a spouse's rights are protected.

Source: Pennsylvania Bar Association, "Divorce & Separation," Accessed June 20, 2016

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