How to Prepare for Divorce in Pennsylvania
No matter what state you reside in, divorce is a major life event that has telling effects on spouses, their children, and even extended family. It’s one transaction that simply cannot be rushed into.
No matter how bad things have become between you and your spouse, it’s always difficult to call time on such a union. And the process of bringing it to an end is no easy ride either.
Once you enter into the maelstrom of the divorce process, it is easy to feel like a rag doll carried all over in the current of the process. This is one feeling you don’t want to have because it may mean that you exit the process in a much worse position that you would have wanted to.
Your best bet to ensuring that the entire process is hitch free and amicably settled is to prepare adequately before you launch into your divorce. You need to understand all you can about the process and what will be expected of you so you don’t get blindsided by events that would crop up seemingly unexpectedly.
This article shows you just how to prepare yourself for the divorce process while married in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania divorce process
Starting the divorce process in Pennsylvania can be tricky, especially if you’ve had no experience with the court system.
The process is usually begun by filing a complaint with the clerk of the Pennsylvania county court you’re resident in. The spouse that starts the divorce process is called the plaintiff while the other spouse is the defendant.
Before you can file the complaint as the plaintiff, you must have been resident in Pennsylvania for at least 6 months prior to the time of filing the divorce. If you have not been so resident, you may encounter problems with filing the divorce.
There are three ways to file a divorce in Pennsylvania. You can file a mutual consent divorce, unilateral divorce or a “fault” divorce. Regardless of whichever you’re filing, you’ll be required to pay filing fees at the point of filing.
If you and your spouse agree to proceed with the divorce, you can file a mutual consent divorce. With this type of divorce, there’s an agreement that neither party is at fault so both spouses write in their statement that the marriage is “irretrievably broken down”. This is called a no-fault divorce. The divorce becomes finalized in 90 days.
If one spouse does not want the divorce, then they can proceed with a unilateral divorce as long as the couple has lived apart for at least 2 consecutive years prior to the filing of the divorce.
There must not have been any break within the 2-year period. If there was, the period starts to count again from the time that the couple last lived together or had marital relations.
The third way of filing for divorce is the fault divorce. Here, the spouse filing for the divorce would state in the complaint that the other spouse has caused the marriage to fail. There are certain grounds recognized under Pennsylvania law that justify a divorce. This complaint must be made on one of those grounds. For instance, adultery.
If the divorce is by mutual consent, there’s a chance that you’ll be able to get it over quickly and without much expense. But if there are any issues contested between you and your spouse, you may be in for a long process. There’s a lot you can do to prepare yourself for the process.
5 things you should do before seeking a divorce
Before taking the decision to file a divorce complaint, you should take stock and ready yourself for the process. Here are five things you should do before you set the ball rolling.
Understand what you’re getting into
You need to be absolutely sure that you understand what you want and what you’re about to get into. It’ll be more than a tad inconvenient if you get to the middle of the process and then discover a divorce was not what you wanted.
If you’re not entirely sure that what you want is a divorce, you can consider other means of achieving some sort of temporary or permanent separation from your spouse.
You and your spouse can agree to live apart for a while, on terms comfortable to both of you. This will enable a reflection period so you both can be sure that you want to proceed with a more permanent arrangement.
Seek an agreement
Divorce is infinitely more painful and time-consuming if you and your spouse have to bicker over every little detail of your divorce terms in open court. It is best to settle all the details long before you get to court so the process is less emotionally draining.
It is perfectly legal for you and your spouse to sit and decide on a suitable arrangement for the disposition of issues concerning your rights and obligations after the end of the marriage. The details you will need to work out include:
- Child support payments
- Spousal support
- Child custody agreements
- Visitation rights
- Payment of shared debts
- Division of shared property
- Alimony payments
Once you and your spouse have agreed on these details. You can then present the agreement before the court and if it is deemed fair and appropriate by the court, it will be approved and made into a decree by the court.
Decide on mediation
Litigation can be costly, not just in terms of financial implications but also in terms of its emotional toll. If you are likely to have a bitter divorce, it would be worth your while to try all possible means to arrange a mediation especially for the purpose of ironing out the details concerning your rights after the dissolution of the marriage.
And if the relationship between you and your spouse is amicable enough, you may not need to do any litigating at all. You would only need to have a qualified mediator chair the meeting between you both so you can decide on how you want to dissolve your marriage.
Prepare for the cost
This is one thing you cannot escape preparing for. Divorce is expensive, again, both emotionally and financially. If your divorce proceedings will involve a lot of contention, filing fees alone will set you back hundreds of dollars.
You will have to prepare for the possibility of depositions, hiring of experts and drafting of necessary court processes. You also need to prepare for the cost of hiring a lawyer to help you through the divorce process. Of course, you can represent yourself if you feel up to the task.
Most of all, you need to prepare for the emotional cost of a divorce. More often than not, it’s an emotional roller coaster and if you don’t steel your stomach before the process, you may find yourself out of your depth.
Speak to a lawyer
Yes, you can represent yourself but that may not always be the best thing for you. If your divorce is uncontested and your spouse is entirely on board with you every step of the way, it may be possible to represent yourself without any hitch.
But you will still need to draw up a suitable agreement that will govern you and your spouse’s rights after dissolution of the marriage. It’s often best to have a competent divorce attorney help you prepare the document or go over it.
Plus, a qualified divorce attorney would be in the best position to give you solid advice on what you can expect from the divorce process and how to go about it, advice you won’t get from any court guides on how to proceed with a divorce.
Set out on your best foot
It’s always best to enter into the divorce process knowing exactly what will be required of you and having a plan for how you want to proceed. This way you can get the best outcome possible.
If you’d like to talk to a lawyer about your impending divorce or if you’re not sure how you want to proceed, please get in touch with us. Our lawyers are eminently qualified and ready to help you any way they can.