Understanding the laws and the legal process of a divorce in Chester County can help make this difficult time a little easier on you and your family. While no two divorce cases are the same, there is a lot of information that could give you general guidelines for what to expect. Our divorce lawyers represent clients in a myriad of divorce related matters including but not limited to:
- Divorce Procedures in Chester County
- Chester County Contested Divorces
- Bitter and Litigious Divorce
- Simple Divorce
- No-Fault Divorce
- Equitable Distribution & Division of Assets
- Alimony & Spousal Support in Chester County
- Legal Separation
- Emergency Petitions
- Prenuptial & Post-Nuptial Agreements
At Ciccarelli Law Offices we understand how complex the process can be– and we tailor our legal representation accordingly. We take the time to listen to our clients and understand their situations, so that we can effectively meet their individual goals. Contact us to meet with a Pennsylvania family law attorney in one of our meeting locations serving West Chester, Exton/Downingtown, Kennett Square, King of Prussia, Media/Springfield, Lancaster or Philadelphia.
Our Chester County divorce lawyers do not take on a divorce client lightly; we aim to treat each of our clients with the utmost respect that the seriousness and the gravity of the situation calls for. If you are contemplating a divorce or facing the prospects of a legal separation, speak to one of our aggressive, experienced and reasonable Chester County divorce attorneys to discuss your rights, your options and the benefits of our representation. Contact us by EMAIL or call (610) 692-8700.
Chester County and PA Divorce Statistics
You’ve probably heard the statistic that more than 50% of all marriages will end in divorce. While the stat might not be totally accurate, over the last decade it’s become closer than ever before.
65 Years of Divorce and Marriage in Pennsylvania
How true is this for people in Chester County? A look at the county court records shows a total of 3,384 divorce cases available for processing in 2015, out of a total of about 292,286 married couples – substantially less than 50%. Demographic data shows just 8% of people in Chester County are currently divorced.
Here’s a breakdown of the types of divorce cases in the county, based on the 1,062 the courts processed in 2015:
- 45 contested before a judge (4.2%)
- 190 contested before a master (17.9%)
- 809 uncontested (76.2%)
- 18 other (1.7%)
The other 2,322 divorces remained pending by the end of the year. In the entire state of Pennsylvania, there were 33,600 divorces and annulments in the year 2015. The majority of divorces filed in Chester County were uncontested, which is good news for couples – uncontested divorces are faster, easier, and often less difficult emotionally than contested divorces. Of course, data won’t decide what type of divorce you require. It’s up to you and your spouse to come to an agreement or file for a contested divorce.
What is the divorce capital of Pennsylvania?
On the subject of uncontested (or “pro se”) divorces, some of Pennsylvania’s smallest counties lead the way in divorce filings. Potter County, with just over 17,ooo residents, was home to the most divorce filings in 2015 with 4,767 – nearly double that of the next highest county.
Are Potter County residents historically miserable? Or is something else at play?
Fortunately, a quick look at county divorce filing records reveals a simple answer. Thanks to much lower court fees and faster processing for uncontested divorce filings, thousands of divorce cases from all over the state of Pennsylvania are filed with the Potter County’s Prothonotary Office each year. In fact, 97.5 percent of divorce filings in Potter County – and 98.9 percent in nearby Cameron County – were of the uncontested variety. This is further illuminated by the lack of uncontested divorce filings in the largest counties – including zero in Philadelphia County.
Pennsylvania Divorce Laws
Pennsylvania is a unique state, in that it abides by fault and no-fault laws. In a fault divorce, one spouse holds that the other is responsible for the dissolution of marriage. In these cases, a judge will consider the cause of the divorce and misconduct in deciding the terms of the divorce. Several situations could lead to a fault divorce:
- Abandonment without cause (for at least one year)
- Physical or mental abuse/extreme cruelty
- Behaviors that make married life intolerable
- Conviction of a crime and imprisonment for two-plus years
- Humiliation of the innocent spouse
To go through a fault divorce, one spouse must prove the other spouse’s fault. The courts will not consider fault when separating property in Pennsylvania, but they will consider it when looking at alimony. If one spouse is guilty of adultery, for example, a judge may decline his or her request for alimony or reduce the amount.
In a no-fault divorce, the grounds for dissolution are an “irretrievable breakdown” of marriage or “irreconcilable differences.” To file for a no-fault divorce, the couple must show mutual consent. A two-year separation is also grounds for divorce, in which case one spouse can obtain a divorce without the other spouse’s consent. The date of your initial separation is important, as the courts will generally not include property acquired by a spouse after separation part of the marital estate when dividing property.
Contested Versus Uncontested Divorce
On top of fault and no-fault divorces, there are contested and uncontested ones. An uncontested divorce is one in which both spouses mutually agree to the terms of the divorce. Terms may include property division, child support, parenting time, and alimony. In an uncontested divorce, the couple can come up with their own agreement for a judge to accept or deny. These divorces are typically simple and don’t take very long, because they don’t involve lengthy mediation or a trial to decide on the terms of the split. They also cause less of a financial burden.
A contested divorce is one in which one or both spouses cannot agree on the terms. If there is even one term the couple cannot agree upon, the court considers the divorce contested. In a contested divorce, the couple will have to agree to a settlement during pre-trial proceedings or go to court. In a settlement, neither spouse is likely to appeal the agreement. Therefore, both parties can enjoy an end to litigation. If you cannot settle out of court, it is usually in your best interest to hire an attorney. Going to court for a contested divorce can get messy, and it often requires the need for aggressive litigation to defend your rights to property, child custody, and/or support.
Timeline for a Divorce in Pennsylvania
One of the most common questions we receive when we handle divorce cases is, “How long will the process take?” The answer varies on a case-by-case basis; however, a no-fault divorce with mutual consent can takes as little as five months from beginning to end. After filing the complaint, the court mandates a 90-day period for both parties to “cool off.” After these 90 days, both parties may file written declarations of consent to the divorce. In a complex, contested divorce, on the other hand, couples may have years before receiving the final documents. Expect an average divorce case to take at least one year.
How Do You File for Divorce in PA?
Once you discover what type of divorce you’ll file (fault/no-fault, contested/uncontested), you can begin the divorce process. The courts strongly encourage spouses to obtain legal help from an experienced attorney prior to undertaking divorce proceedings. You can seek representation from a family law lawyer in Chester County at any point before or during your divorce.
Here are the basic steps to filing for divorce in Pennsylvania:
- File for divorce. This starts with Form 1, the Notice to Defend and Divorce Complaint. Fill out all three pages of this form and make two copies of the completed document. Take the original and your copies to the correct office in your county to file the legal pleadings. (Note: If you’re filing for a contested or otherwise complex divorce, you will want to protect yourself with an attorney prior to filing.)
- You must pay a filing fee at the time of your submission. If you cannot afford the fee, you will need to file a Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and detail your income and expenses. A judge will review your information and decide whether you are exempt from paying the filing fee, which can amount to hundreds of dollars.
- Serve the complaint. You can serve your spouse the official complaint yourself or hire a professional to serve your spouse. You have 30 days from the date you file to serve the complaint to your spouse. If your spouse lives out of state, you have 90 days.
- If your spouse consents to the divorce, you must both wait 90 days from the date of the service of the complaint to continue. Then, complete the Affidavit of Consent (Form 5a and 5b) and a Waiver of Notice (Form 6a and 6b). You must also complete any other forms your county requests.
- If your spouse does not consent to your divorce, you must wait two years from the date of separation to file a contested divorce. Then, submit the Affidavit Under 3301(d) of the Divorce Code (Form 8), as well as Form 9. You will need to file Form 10 as well for an affidavit of non-military service.
- Once you and your spouse have filed all the correct forms, the court will mail a final Divorce Decree to both parties, presuming there are no mistakes in the documents. Remember, if you have a contested divorce, you may need to go to court before receiving the final decree.
For more information about the procedure for filing a divorce in Pennsylvania, read the official Divorce Procedure. It is very important to fill out your forms correctly the first time. Otherwise, you could unnecessarily delay your proceedings or lose your rights to alimony. When in doubt, speak to an attorney.
Military Divorce in Chester County
If you and/or your spouse are active-duty military members or military veterans, your divorce in Pennsylvania will be slightly different than typical proceedings are. You must handle a few unique issues that do not exist in a civilian divorce.
First, the law protects active-duty members against a spouse holding him/her in “default” from not responding to an initial divorce action. This law is in place to prevent active-duty members getting divorced without having a say. The Service members’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) makes it possible to postpone divorce proceedings for the duration of the active service member’s time on duty and for as much as 60 days after. If the active-duty member wishes to proceed with the divorce while on duty, he/she has the right to waive the postponement.
To file for divorce from an active military spouse, one must serve the active spouse with a summons and a copy of the divorce action. Only then will the courts have jurisdiction over the active-duty spouse. If the divorce is uncontested, no one needs to serve the active military spouse, as long as he or she signs an affidavit acknowledging the divorce action. You or your spouse must reside in or be stationed in Pennsylvania to file with this state’s courts. The grounds for a military divorce in the state are the same as for a civilian divorce.
In Pennsylvania, the courts cannot award alimony or child support amounts that exceed 60% of the active military member’s pay plus allowances. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act decides how the courts calculate and divide military retirement benefits and property in military divorces. Federal laws prevent the division and distribution of retirement benefits to the non-military spouse unless the couple has been married for 10 years or longer while one spouse has been on active duty.
What Is a Master in Divorce Court Proceedings?
You may come across the term “Master” during divorce proceedings in the Pennsylvania courts. In most hearings in Chester County (especially child custody hearings), a Permanent Master hears economic claims in a setting that is more similar to a conference than a court trial. Both parties attend a pre-hearing meeting, wherein they will describe their demands, arguments, and reasoning.
A Master will hear both sides of the case and make a recommendation as to a resolution or a compromise. If parties reach an agreement at this stage, the courts can finalize the divorce based on the terms of the resolution. If not, the case will go to trial before a judge. As you can see from the statistics listed above, the majority of contested divorce cases in Chester County (190 cases in 2015) go before a Master, not a judge (45 cases in 2015). Master’s hearings are generally faster and cheaper than courtroom trial divorces.
Can I Represent Myself in a PA Divorce?
While technically the answer is yes, the real question to ask yourself is “should I represent myself’? The Rules of Court state that self-representation in a divorce case does not exempt you from the same standards the court holds attorneys to – the standards of the bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In other words, you must have a complete understanding of the state and local court rules even if you are representing yourself. Self-representation can be dangerous during a divorce, as just one mistake can alter the outcome of property division, alimony, child support, and/or custody. Mistakes can also lengthen the time it takes to get a divorce and lead to more court costs and fees than necessary.
If you have a very simple, uncontested divorce, it may be possible to represent yourself without issue. Any factor that makes your divorce complicated, however, deserves attention from a family law attorney. While there are a number of brochures, documents, and websites available to help people through the divorce process in Pennsylvania, nothing compares to representation from an actual lawyer.
You need legal counsel regarding your individual case to maximize your odds of a satisfactory and successful divorce. If you choose to self-represent, verify that you have met all up-to-date requirements for your protection.
Get in Touch With a Chester County Divorce Lawyer Today
No amount of online information can prepare you for the process ahead. Dissolution of marriage is a serious legal proceeding that often involves mental and emotional distress on top of confusing paperwork and stressful negotiations. The right divorce lawyer can support you during this hard time, giving you vital information and keeping you updated about the status of your case. You can learn your rights, file paperwork correctly the first time, and reduce the amount of time it takes to receive a final Divorce Decree.
The lawyers at Ciccarelli Law Offices want to help you navigate your divorce. We work with spouses and parents to come up with satisfactory agreements and overcome any obstacles that may exist, such as the need for restraining orders or a full custody agreement.
Ciccarelli Law Offices has represented men and women in marriage dissolution, mediation and divorce cases. Our divorce law attorneys have experience in negotiating fair marital property. Our attorneys works with spouses and parents to develop reasonable divorce, custody, and property distribution agreements. We can assist in overcoming obstacles that often develop during a divorce, such as orders for protection, PFA’s, or restraining orders. We have extensive experience resolving tough family issues such as property settlements; legal and physical child custody; visitation; child support; alimony/spousal support agreements; and prenuptial agreements. We represent clients facing divorce throughout Chester County: including West Chester , Downingtown, and King of Prussia.
To speak to our attorneys in Chester County about your divorce case, contact us online or call (610) 692-8700 or toll free at (877) 529-2422. We offer free initial consultations to get to know you and your circumstances at no cost or obligation.