- A Divorce is started by one person filing a Complaint in Divorce.
- There are eight (8) Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania, two (2) of which are not based upon Fault. One No-Fault ground is where both parties consent and it is established that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The second No-Fault ground is where the parties have been living separate and apart for a period of at least one (1) year and the marriage is irretrievably broken. There are requirements with regard to establishing these facts and there are certain time elements involved as to when documents must be signed and filed with the Court.
- With regard to the One-Year Separation Ground, where parties are required to live separate and apart, the parties may be considered to have been living separate and apart even if in the same residence, under certain circumstances. Once a Divorce Complaint is filed and served, it is presumed in the law that the parties lived separate and apart thereafter.
- The parties to a Divorce may come to an agreement regarding how to divide property and debts, the payment of alimony or not, support, custody and other matters. Written agreements regarding property rights, alimony, attorney fees and expenses are not permitted to be modified by the Court once approved by the Court.
While the parties may also come to a written agreement regarding Child Support, Visitation, or Custody, these agreements are subject to modification by the Court upon a showing of changed circumstances.
- In the absence of an agreement, the Court has the power to divide marital property. Marital Property is defined as all property acquired by either party during the marriage and the increase in value of any non-marital property.
- There are various exceptions as to what Marital Property does and does not include which must be carefully examined in each and every case. Your attorney must fully evaluate all property to assess whether it is marital, non-marital, and / or any exceptions which may apply with regard to such property.
If a Court is called upon to divide the marital property, the Court will consider the following factors, all of which are relevant: (a) Length of the marriage; (b) Any prior marriage; (c) Age; (d) Health; (e) Station in life; (f) Amount and sources of income; (g) Vocational skills; (h) Employability; (i) Estate together and separately; (j) Liabilities; (k) Needs of Each of the Parties; (l) The contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other party; (m) The opportunity for each party for future acquisitions of assets and income; (n) The sources of income of both parties; (o) The contribution or dissipation of each party to the property, including the contribution as a homemaker; (p) Value of property set apart to each party; (q) Standard of living during the marriage; (r) Economic circumstances at the time of division of property; (s) Tax ramifications; (t) Expenses of sale or liquidation associated with assets; and (u) Whether the party will be serving as a custodian of dependent minor children.
- A Court may award alimony, but does not do so in every case. There are seventeen (17) factors in the Divorce code which are relevant to the determination of whether alimony should be awarded and in what amount and for what length of time. Some of the factors which the Court is directed to consider include: the relative earnings of the parties; the ages, and physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties; the sources of income; the serving as a custodian of minor children; and various other factors as set forth in Section 3701 of the Divorce Code of Pennsylvania. Alimony ceases upon the death of the party receiving the payments. Alimony generally ends upon the death of the party paying the alimony, unless there is an agreement between the parties or an order of Court directing that such payments continue even after the death of the payer party from his or her estate.
- Parties may enter into a premarital written agreement setting forth the rights and liabilities of the parties in the event of death or divorce. A premarital agreement means any agreement between prospective spouses made in contemplation of marriage and to be effective upon the happening of the marriage.
If one party attempts to set aside a premarital agreement, that party must prove various things by clear and convincing evidence. These things which must be proved are set out in the Divorce Code.
- To assist your attorney, organize documents relating to property and personal belongings. These tell the economic story of the marriage. Consider…
- a. The deed and / or title for any homes, buildings, land, cars, boats, or other vehicles.
- b. Tax returns for at least the last 3 years, whether personal or business.
- c. Bank statements for the last 3 year for all accounts.
- d. Credit card statements for the last 3 years.
- e. The last 3 paystubs for yourself and your spouse. These show income, benefits, and deductions such as pension, annuity, investment, loan repayments, health insurance and the like.
- f. A list of all your monthly expenses.
- g. Statements or other proof of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, brokerage accounts, and other funds.
- h. business records and books.
- i. Mortgage and loan applications.
- j. Insurance information, including costs and benefits: Life, Health, Disability, Auto and any other policy;
- k. Wills, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, Standby Guardianships;
- l. Court/legal documents;
- m. Safe deposit box numbers/keys.
- Discuss with your lawyer a reasonable timeline of what you can expect, and whether it serves your interests to move things along quickly, or not.
- Consider the wisdom of having a separate checking and credit card accounts.
- Work on making important decisions regarding children or other dependents as quickly and wisely as possible.
- Consider creating or revising your Will. Ensure the children are well cared for in the event of your death or incapacitation.
- If you need to, acquire your own health insurance.
- Consider whether collaborative (amicable/non litigated) divorce may be right for you.
- Write down every question or concern which you have, to discuss with the attorney.
** If you are meeting with your attorney, and have property which must be divided, it would be of significant help to the attorney to prepare in advance a writing addressing the various Equitable Distribution (property division) factors shown in number 6 above.