Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

A party seeking a divorce must state a ground for divorce in the Divorce Complaint initial that is filed with the court, which is the initial document filed with the Court to begin a divorce action. The grounds for divorce can be based on no-fault or fault. While Pennsylvania still recognizes “fault” grounds, the majority of cases are based on “no-fault” grounds. In Pennsylvania, a “no-fault” divorce is a divorce in which neither spouse blames the other spouse for the demise of the marriage..

Pennsylvania Fault Divorces
“Fault” based grounds for divorces are brought by a “innocent and injured spouse” when the other spouse has (1) willfully deserted the marriage for a period greater than one year, (2) committed adultery, (3) endangered the life or health of the other spouse, (4) entered into a bigamous marriage, (5) been sentenced to prison for two of more years, or (6) “offered such indignities to the innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome.” This type of divorce proceeding can be expensive and emotionally charged but have little or no effect on equitable distribution. However, “fault” grounds can be considered relevant for an “innocent and injury spouse” who is also seeking alimony but this may be asserted as an entitlement defense in the support action rather than in a “fault” based divorce. For this reason, “no-fault” divorces are more common today.

Pennsylvania No-Fault Divorces

“No-fault” grounds for divorce allow a spouse to request a divorce decree after ninety days have elapsed since the filing and service upon the other spouse of a divorce complaint only if both parties consent to the entry of a divorce decree by executing an Affidavit of Consent. If one spouse refuses or fails to consent to the entry of the decree, the spouse seeking a “no fault” divorce will have to prove that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that the spouses have been separated for at least two years.

Pennsylvania does not recognize a legal separation. The date of separation is presumed to be the date of the filing of a divorce complaint unless there are facts that support an earlier date of separation (such as one spouse moving out of the marital residence). Nonetheless, there is Pennsylvania case law that has found that spouses can be separated even if they continue to reside in the same household.

What is a PA Divorce Decree?
A divorce decree in Pennsylvania is an order of court declaring the dissolution of the marriage. Upon entry of a divorce decree, either spouse has the right to remarry or to change their will or estate in the event of death. Moreover, equitable distribution of the marital estate (inclusive of assets and liabilities of the marriage) and alimony cannot be resolved except in conjunction with a spouses request for the entry of a divorce decree.

Annulments in Pennsylvania
Marriage is a contract, and if either individual was unable to enter into the contract, a court may determine that no contract of marriage ever existed. An annulment is a legal declaration that a valid marriage never existed. This differs from a divorce which declares that a valid marriage is over.

Courts in Pennsylvania has recognized that invalid marriages include situations such as when either party had an existing spouse at the time of the marriage, when the parties are blood relatives within a certain degree, or when either party could not consent because of a mental defect, age or other related reason. Other marriages may be declared void in Pennsylvania upon the request of one of the parties. In Pennsylvania, a voidable marriage can arise when either spouse is less than sixteen years of age and lacks the consent of a parent or the court to marry, where either party was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when either party was at the time of the marriage incurably impotent (unbeknownst to the other spouse), and when either party entered into the marriage as a result of fraud, duress, coercion, or force.

Religious-based Annulments in PA

An annulment granted through a church, synagogue or other religious-based entity is not the same as a legal annulment. Only through a legal proceeding for an annulment or divorce will give the parties the right to remarry. A religious-based annulment gives the parties the right to remarry through their religious organization. A party in a religious-based annulment is not represented by a lawyer, but is often counseled through the process by a priest, minister or rabbi.