Pennsylvania Divorce Guide

Pennsylvania Divorce Guide

A Guide to Divorce in Pennsylvania

Every divorce comes with its own unique set of circumstances, but the vast majority of divorces in Pennsylvania must follow the same rules and procedures no matter what issues surround a couple’s marriage and impending divorce. For example, in all instances, at least one spouse must have lived in the Commonwealth for at least six months to be able to file for a divorce.

Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state which means courts will divide property in a way that it deems as fair, and not necessarily on a 50-50 basis, as is the case in community property states.

This guide will help you understand what many of the basic rules and procedures related to divorce in Pennsylvania so that you can equip yourself with important information that you will need to help you get through the divorce process.

Here are some of the important things you will need to know as you start working through your divorce in Pennsylvania.

The differences between divorce, annulment and separation

Legal Separation vs a Divorce vs Annulment

Married couples can end their marriages either by annulment or divorce in Pennsylvania. Each of these has their own special requirements and rules, and a basic understanding of these options is a good place for you to start.

Although legal separation is not recognized by the Commonwealth, you should still understand it and consider a similar alternative known as a separation agreement.

Legal Separation

When a marriage is no longer working and one spouse moves out of the home, couples may consider themselves separated. While this is physically the case, they are not legally separated, and there is a big difference between the two.

Legal separation is much different from physical separation. Legal separation includes each spouse working out major issues such as child custody and support, alimony and a division of assets while still remaining married.

In many cases, legal separation provides a much-needed time out that allows two people to try and resolve their issues in a less combative environment. Stepping away can oftentimes bring added perspective about what a couple will lose in a marriage and give them time to heal from the issues that caused their marriage to come under stress.

Spouses may also choose legal separation for religious reasons. Some religions do not look favorably upon divorce and staying married though legally separated puts less pressure on a couple who might otherwise be in conflict with their church and religious beliefs.

There are also financial benefits, such as being able to keep health insurance, or by continuing to file as a married couple on tax returns.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania does not allow a couple to be legally separated. However, to resolve the important issues that come up in a divorce, a couple can enter into a separation agreement. This legally binding contract describes specific rights and responsibilities of each spouse and is similar to legal separation, except that it is not executed or approved by the courts.

Much like legal separation, a separation agreement exists to allow spouses to attempt to amicably negotiate terms that both can agree upon.


Annulments mean that a marriage is considered null and void, as if it never happened. Pennsylvania allows annulments based on several grounds that fall under two categories.

Void Marriages

Void marriages are prohibited by law in Pennsylvania. They are not legally recognized, but if both parties continue to live together after the reason for the void marriage is removed, a marriage may be considered valid.

Void marriages grounds include:

  • One or both spouses were under 18 at the time of the common law marriage
  • A spouse suffered from mental incapacity or incompetence and was therefore unable to consent to the marriage
  • The marriage is bigamous or polygamous
  • The marriage is to a first cousin or closer relative
Void marriages are invalid immediately and do not require any kind of court action to be annulled.
Voidable Marriages

Voidable marriages are considered valid but can be declared void in some cases. Like void marriages, if both spouses continue to live together after the voidable reason is discovered or taken care of, the marriage may be considered valid.

Grounds for voidable marriages may include:

  • One or both spouses were under 16
  • One or both spouses were under 18 and the marriage was performed without parental consent
  • The marriage took place while one spouse or the other was under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • One spouse or the other is not physically able to have intercourse
  • The marriage took place under duress, coercion or fraud.

Voidable marriages require a trial and hearing in front of a judge to prove that there are grounds for annulment. Parents can bring the action for an annulment if their child was under 18 at the time the marriage took place or if the child is not mentally competent.


Divorce is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, and each spouse goes their separate way after a final decree is issued.

What are the grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, the Complaint for Divorce must list the appropriate valid reason for the divorce. Pennsylvania allows spouses to either cite a no-fault reason which simply says a marriage is irretrievably broken or a fault-based reason which falls under one of six situations that include:

  • Willful and malicious desertion for the period of one or more years.
  • Adultery
  • Cruel and barbarous treatment
  • Bigamy by knowingly entered into a bigamous marriage while a former marriage is still subsisting
  • Serving a prison sentence for two or more years
  • Treating an innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse’s condition intolerable and their life burdensome.
For a fault-based claim, you must be prepared to substantiate your claim with proof to the courts if requested.

To meet the guidelines for a mutual consent dissolution of marriage, in addition to citing that a marriage is irretrievably broken, 90 days must have commenced from the start of a divorce, or the spouses have been living separate and apart for at least two years,

What are your options for divorce?

Options for Getting a Divorce

It is in your best interests to fully understand all of your options when you are thinking about getting a divorce. The path that you ultimately take will be determined by the relationship you have with your spouse.

Deciding whether to pursue an uncontested divorce in Pennsylvania or attempting to negotiate a settlement through a cooperative effort of some sort could save you a lot time and money, making it easier for you to transition to life as a single person.

Before we get into it, it’s important to remember that there is no “best” type of divorce. Every case has its own unique qualities and every relationship has dynamics that could have a great effect on the divorce. Keep these things in mind as you read about your options.

Bearing that in mind, here are the types of divorce:

Do-It-Yourself Divorce: What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straightforward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.

Online Divorce: A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.

Pro Tip: We’ve taken a close look at all of the best online divorce services, and our top pick is 3 Step Divorce. They are fast and affordable, with a 100% guarantee of court approval or your money back! Check out our full review here, or you can >>> Save Now By Getting Started With 3 Step Divorce.

Litigation: The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.

Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.

Mediation: With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.

Collaborative Divorce: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions.

That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.

Learn More: For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our guide on the types of divorce.

What is the process of filing for divorce in Pennsylvania?

Process of Getting a Divorce

No matter what kind of divorce you decide to pursue in Pennsylvania, there are many tasks that are pretty much the same.

Gather important information

Save time, money and stress in your divorce by approaching this step in a timely and thorough way. It will take time to pull together your information, but it is vital that you do this without cutting corners. It’s the best way to make sure your rights are protected and to give yourself the possibility of achieving the best possible financial settlement with your spouse.

Starting early and being organized are keys to successfully completing this task.

Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:

  • Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
  • Open a credit card in your name alone.
  • Order a free credit report.
  • Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
If you’re in the dark about your finances, that’s okay. You and your spouse will be required to complete financial affidavits as part of the divorce process. The goal at this point is simply to begin identifying the puzzle pieces.

Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:

  • Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
  • Pay stubs for the last 3 months
  • Bank statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Retirement account statements
  • Pension plan statements
  • Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
  • Investment account statements
  • Life insurance policies
  • Mortgage statements
  • Real estate appraisals
  • Deeds to real estate
  • Car registration
  • Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
  • Car loan statements
  • Social security benefit statement

This is only a partial list. You can check out the complete divorce document checklist here.

Complete the initial paperwork

After you have gathered your information and decided what kind of divorce you will pursue, the next step is to complete the necessary forms to officially start the divorce process. If you are working with an attorney, they will prove valuable in guiding you through this part of the process.

If you are the one initiating the divorce process, you will be known as the petitioner. If your spouse is the one who files the initial papers, then you will be known as the respondent.

If you decide to represent yourself in a divorce, you will be responsible for understanding and following the Pennsylvania’s statewide and local Rules of Court.

You must also follow all rules regarding confidential information as it relates to documents and court filings. You can view the policy here.

In Pennsylvania, the forms you need to file will depend on the circumstances of your particular divorce. Regardless of which forms you choose, you will need to print each form and take it to the designated office in your county courthouse.

For no-fault and mutual consent divorces

If you and your spouse agree to a no-fault and mutual consent divorce, use the following forms for a 3301c divorce:

No-fault and applicable time of separation

If the period of separation from your spouse began on or after December 5, 2016 you will need to live apart from your spouse for at least one year before filing your divorce complaint. If your period of separation began before December 5, 2016, you need to have lived apart from your spouse for a minimum of two years prior to filing a complaint.

Use the following forms for a 3301d divorce:

If you are working with an attorney, they will make sure all the forms are correct and they will file them in the county where you live in the court where legal proceedings are filed. This may differ from county to county in Pennsylvania.

Completing proof of service in Pennsylvania

After you file your initial forms with the courts, you must also complete proof of service to your spouse, letting them officially know you have started the divorce process. This will give them the opportunity to respond to the Complaint.

In Pennsylvania, court papers can be served by mail as long as you follow specific rules and procedures. Court papers may also be served by personal service, but you or a person related to you cannot complete this task.

Once papers have been served, Proof of Service must be documented by completing an Affidavit of Service or Certificate of Service which explains how and when the papers were delivered to the other party.

You must use one of the following affidavits of service to document that proof of service has been completed. The affidavit you use will depend on how the proof of service was completed.

If you are not sure which form to use, ask court personnel or consult with an attorney to make sure you follow this procedure correctly.

If you were unable to successfully serve the other party within 30 days (or within 90 days if the other party does not live in Pennsylvania), then you must complete and file the Praecipe to Reinstate the Complaint, Form 4. The date you file this Praecipe re-starts the clock for service, and you will have another 30 days to serve the other party (or 90 days if the other party does not live in Pennsylvania).

If you continue to have problems completing service, it is recommended that you speak to an attorney. You may not proceed until proper service has been made.

Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure require that parties in a divorce wait 90 days from the service of the Complaint before filing 3301c Affidavit of Consents. This is used in uncontested divorces and starts the process of finalizing a divorce. In a contested divorce, additional documents and court appearances may be required to resolve outstanding issues.

Can you file for divorce online in Pennsylvania?

Divorce Online

No, you will need to file your divorce papers in-person at your local courthouse. You can’t submit the forms electronically.

However, you can use an online service to help you prepare all the required forms and paperwork. This is a great approach if you’re not planning to hire an attorney.

The best place to start your online paperwork is 3 Step Divorce.

3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.

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    • Library of free tools and resources
  • Supportive
    • Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
  • Instantaneous
    • Immediate access to completed forms
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How much will it cost to file?


It depends. Each county in Pennsylvania sets their own filing fees and fees for services they provide related to the divorce process. Costs can vary widely from county to county. For example, in Bucks County the filing fee is $363. But in Cameron County, the filing fee was only $86 in 2016.

Overall, fees may run into the hundreds of dollars. If you are not able to pay these fees and want to see if you qualify for a waiver, you can submit a form called In Forma Pauperis. As part of this submission, you will need to provide your income and expense statements and you may be required to appear in front of a judge who will decide if you must pay fees or not.

To research fees for your particular county, go to this page.

Remember that these are just court related costs. Fees for hiring attorneys, mediators, arbitrators or for other services can be expensive and vary widely as well.

How long does it take to get a divorce in Pennsylvania?

How Long Does a Divorce Take

For a no fault and uncontested divorce, after divorce papers have been filed and served there is a minimum 90-day waiting period before final paperwork can be submitted and a divorce can be finalized by the courts. In some cases, this could take longer if there is a backlog in the county where you file.

In cases where a divorce is contested, both sides will need to work to resolve outstanding issues such as child custody and support, alimony, a division of assets and other concerns before a divorce can be presented to the courts for consideration.

When spouses cannot come to an agreement, they may need to proceed to a trial which could add several months to the process before a divorce is finalized.

Should I work with a certified divorce financial analyst?

Attorney for a Divorce

Divorcing spouses in Pennsylvania often retain a family law attorney to help them through the process. In simple cases, an attorney may be equipped to handle all aspects of the divorce, including the finances.

But if you have a degree of complexity to your financial situation, you might benefit from working with a divorce financial planning expert.

The best professional to help in these situations is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).

A CDFA has specialized training in the financial and tax implications of divorce and can work with you to help you understand the pros and cons of your options.

Additional Reading: What is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst? (and why you need one).

Bifurcation of marital status in Pennsylvania

Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally declared as a single person while some issues in their divorce are still being worked out. It does not affect things such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.

Recent law changes in Pennsylvania have made it more difficult to enter into a bifurcation, but it is still possible as long as both parties consent to the process. Courts much prefer to not issue divorce decrees until all matters have been resolved, but will allow bifurcation, especially when there are circumstances that warrant it.

Courts may enter a decree of divorce or annulment before certain matters have been resolved, such as custody issues, property rights and interests, child support, alimony, attorney fees, and other costs and expenses.

In cases where both parties do not consent to bifurcation, a court may still enter a divorce decree or annulment if there are compelling circumstances or that grounds for divorce have been sufficiently established. Those grounds must be one of the six standards applied in a fault-based divorce.

Seeking a bifurcated divorce allows the spouses to move more quickly in starting to rebuild their lives and encourages more movement toward settling outstanding issues. There may also be tax advantages as well.

When considering bifurcation, it is best to consult with a family law attorney who can best advise you on the pros and cons of moving in this direction.

Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Pennsylvania?

If a person wants to get a divorce in Pennsylvania, you cannot stop them from moving forward with the process. When there are disagreements, this will have an impact on whether a divorce can be no-fault or a fault-based divorce.

But if you reconcile with your spouse and you both want to stop a divorce from going forward, if the judgment has not already been filed, then you may mutually decide to discontinue the divorce. No court will force you to go through a divorce if neither spouse wants to end the marriage.

Generally, the spouse who originally filed the divorce papers with the court must file a motion for those papers to be withdrawn if it is early in the process. However, if the papers have already been served on the spouse and they have served a response, then both parties must agree to a stipulation that both have signed and presented to the court.

If a divorce decree has been issued in Pennsylvania and the divorce is now final, there is no way to undo it. If you want to get married to your spouse again, you are free to do so.

What is a divorce decree?

Divorce Decree

A divorce decree is the Pennsylvania court’s final order that terminates a marriage. It provides a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. It also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.

Once the divorce decree is issued, parties are legally free to marry another person. The divorce decree is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the decree, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.

What is a divorce certificate?

As opposed to a divorce decree which goes into details about the terms of a divorce, a certificate only includes brief and general information such as the names and dates of the divorce. A divorce certificate can provide proof of divorce for many legal purposes such as when a person wants to prove they are legally free to get married again.

To obtain a divorce certificate in Pennsylvania, submit an application to the Prothonotary at the court house in the county where your divorce was granted.

You may also be able to get a copy of a divorce certificate by contacting a local Pennsylvania Vital Records office.

Changing Your Name

When preparing your divorce forms, you will be presented either an option to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.

The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents are accepted with all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.

Your name change will not take effect just because you have a court order. You need to contact all your organizations to request your records are updated.

It’s best to begin by updating your name with the Social Security Administration. Once complete, you can go on to change names everywhere else.

It takes a long time to reach out to each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.

Read:5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Changing my Last Name

The internet has a whole bunch of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tried out a bunch of them. The vast majority don’t meet our expectations.

But some exceed them.

These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.

If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:

  • Online divorce
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  • Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
  • Co-parenting apps
  • Personal finance and budgeting apps
  • Best place to sell your engagement ring
  • Dating (after divorce)
  • And a whole lot more

You can check them out here >>

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