There are essentially four circumstances in which the Pennsylvania courts will grant a divorce:
- one party has been institutionalized in a mental facility;
- one party proves the other was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, e.g., adultery;
- both parties mutually consent to divorce; or
- the parties have lived separately for one year.
The last of these grounds, often referred to as a one year separation divorce, is discussed in more detail below.
Pennsylvania’s One Year Separation Divorce Statutes
The acceptable grounds for divorce are covered in 33 Pa. C.S.A § 3301. The one year separation divorce rules, which the state refers to as an irretrievable breakdown, are contained in § 3301(d).
The statutes provide that after filing appropriate paperwork, the courts can grant a divorce if one party (the plaintiff) claims the marriage is irretrievably broken, and the couple has been living separately and apart for at least two years.
If the other party (the defendant) denies the allegation that the marriage is irretrievably broken or denies that they have lived apart for at least two years, the couple will have to go court for a hearing. After the judge hears both sides of the story, he or she will grant the divorce if the plaintiff can prove that the above conditions exist.
How to Get a One Year Separation Divorce
As mentioned, the first thing you’ll want to do is assure that you have all the important martial issues settled and that you’ve reached the one year mark of living separately and apart.
After those conditions have been met, and provided you meet Pennsylvania’s six-month residency requirement, the general process of getting a one year separation divorce is as follows:
- Sign an affidavit that states you’ve lived separately and apart from your spouse for at least two years.
- Sign the Petition for a Decree of Divorce that your lawyer will draw up, which asks the courts to grant you a divorce based on the conditions in § 3301(d).
- Your lawyer will file the petition with the court and serve a copy on your spouse.
- If your spouse doesn’t respond, the court will grant you a default divorce.
- If your spouse counterclaims, you will need to attend a hearing, and the court will decide the outcome of your case.
Your attorney can assist you when dividing marital property, working out child custody and support issues, and figuring out your or your spouse’s right to alimony payments. You must work these issues out before the divorce is final; once it is final, you may be unable to modify court orders unless you have a compelling reason to do so.