Ending a marriage requires many difficult decisions about your home, assets, and children among many other things. The divorce process can seem overwhelming even in the most amicable of separations. When you are in this situation it is important to have a divorce attorney who understands the legal process and will be an advocate for your rights and interests.
Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law requires that one or both of the spouses filing for divorce must have lived in the state for at least six months. The court may grant a “no-fault” divorce where it is determined that neither spouse is solely responsible for the divorce, or an “at-fault” divorce may be granted to the spouse who is considered to be the innocent or injured party in the proceeding. Typically no-fault divorces in PA are going to take much less time to resolve than an at-fault divorce, especially after a recent law was passed in Pennsylvania.
No-Fault grounds for divorce include:
- Separation – The marriage is irretrievably broken and one spouse files an affidavit alleging that both parties have lived separate and apart for a period of at least one year.
- Insanity – One spouse is in a mental institution for at least 18 months immediately before the commencement of the divorce filing, and there is no reasonable prospect of the spouse being released over the next 18 months.
- Mutual Consent – The marriage is “irrevocably broken” and both parties complete and file affidavits declaring that they agree to the divorce. This is sometimes called a divorce based on “irreconcilable differences” and is likely the most common grounds for divorce in the United States.
At-Fault grounds for divorce include:
- Willful and Malicious Desertion – One spouse is absent from the home of the innocent spouse, without reasonable cause for at least one year.
- Adultery – The at-fault spouse is found to have committed adultery.
- Cruel and Barbarous Treatment – The actions of one spouse endanger the life or health of the innocent spouse.
- Bigamy – The at-fault spouse willfully married the innocent spouse while already married to another person.
- Conviction of a Crime – A spouse is convicted of a crime and sentenced to at least two years in prison.
- Personal Indignities – One spouse has offered such indignities to the other spouse as to render their condition in life intolerable.
A divorce case is built on the grounds upon which it is filed. While you may think that one or several grounds of divorce apply to your case, your divorce lawyer will be able to work with you to prove the grounds for your divorce that works for you.
Contested vs Uncontested Divorce
Divorces can be either contested or uncontested. If your divorce is uncontested, you and your spouse agree on all major issues of your divorce and you wish to proceed as smoothly as possible. Divorce papers can typically be drafted and agreed upon quickly when a divorce is uncontested.
If your divorce is contested, it means that you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms for which the divorce should be finalized. Disagreements in this case can be about anything including child custody or child support, alimony payments, or even reasons for the divorce itself. In this situation, it is important to have a knowledgeable divorce lawyer working on your behalf through the negotiations and court hearings which occur in your case.
Property Division – Marital Property and Non-Marital Property
The division of property and assets can potentially be the most contested part of your divorce process. In a divorce the property you and your spouse own will be divided into either marital property or non-marital property. Marital property includes most items of property acquired by either spouse during the marriage without regard to whether the title is in the name or one or both spouses. Most other property will be considered non-marital property belonging to one spouse alone.
Non-marital property can include many things such as:
- Property acquired before the marriage
- Property acquired after final separation before the date of divorce
- Payment from a lawsuit for any cause or action which occurred prior to the marriage or after final separation regardless of when payment was received
- Property or assets received as a gift (except between spouses) or inheritance
- Certain veteran’s benefits which are exempt from attachment
Pennsylvania is an “equitable distribution state” meaning that on request of either spouse the court will work to fairly divide the marital property between both spouses in a divorce, and this is done without consideration to marital misconduct by either spouse. Your divorce attorney will work closely with the court as it considers how to fairly divide marital property between you and your spouse. Of the many factors that the court will consider, some include:
- The age, health, income, and employability of each spouse
- The length of the marriage
- The contribution of one spouse to the education or professional training of the other spouse
- The contribution of each spouse to in the acquisition of marital property
- The contribution of one spouse as homemaker
- The standard of living of each spouse established during the marriage
Additionally, the court can take certain actions to ensure fair treatment of both spouses during the divorce proceeding itself. This includes awarding the right to reside in the marital residence to one spouse while the divorce action is pending.
The court may award alimony, or spousal support payments, to one spouse. These payments from one spouse to the other may be based on some agreement between the married parties, or it may be based on a decision of the court itself. Your Central Pennsylvania divorce lawyer has the experience and knowledge to assist the court in its consideration of alimony. Of the many factors the court may take into account when determining if spousal support is necessary, they may include:
- If a spouse is incapable of self-support or employment
- The ages and physical, mental, and emotional conditions of both spouses
- All sources of income of both parties
- The expectancies and inheritances of each spouse
- The contribution of a spouse as homemaker during the marriage
- The future earning capacities of each spouse
- The duration of the marriage
- The standard of living the parties established during the marriage
- The assets and liabilities of both spouses
- The marital misconduct of either spouse during the marriage. This does not include actions after the date of final separation, except for if the court determines that such actions were abusive.
Alimony awards can be modified or suspended at any time with the changing circumstances of either spouse. Additionally, alimony ends if the receiving spouse remarries.
Modification of Divorce Agreements
Life goes on and circumstances change after your divorce has been finalized. You may find it difficult to maintain alimony payments if your income has changed. Perhaps your child support or custody agreement is no longer in the best interest of your child, or perhaps your former spouse is trying to avoid living up to their part of the agreement. Your Central Pennsylvania divorce lawyer can help you if you feel it is necessary to modify your divorce agreement after a final order.
Czekaj Law, LLC understands that the courts are more likely to consider certain modifications to a divorce agreement than others. The Pennsylvania legal system wants to promote fairness for all parties, but it also wants to make sure that people are genuinely trying to live up to their divorce agreement. Your lawyer will use their knowledge of the divorce process to make sure that your divorce agreement continues to work for you.
LGBTQ Divorce Cases
Marriage between same-sex partners has been legal in Pennsylvania since a federal district court ruling in 2014 found that a previous state ban was unconstitutional. Prior to that, same-sex marriages were not recognized in the state, even if spouses had been legally married in another state, and therefore such marriages in Pennsylvania did not have access to the state’s divorce courts. Along with having the right to same-sex marriage, Pennsylvania residents now also have the right to legally end their same-sex marriage.
The process for filing for a divorce in all Pennsylvania counties is the same for all legally recognized marriages. This includes navigating the residency and grounds requirements necessary for a divorce, and fighting for the appropriate alimony award and child custody and support payments. If you are a member of the LGBTQ community and you are seeking a knowledgeable and caring advocate to work for your best interests during your divorce, do not hesitate to call a divorce attorney at Czekaj Law, LLC today.
How a Divorce Lawyer Can Help You
If you are ending your marriage in Perry County, Juniata County, or any of the surrounding counties, you will want an experienced Pennsylvania family lawyer by your side. Your divorce lawyer can help you and your family confidently deal with the difficult and complex Pennsylvania court system, allowing you to move on with your life.