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Ask the Attorney: Considering a Divorce?

Q: I think that it is time my spouse and I got a divorce. What exactly does getting a divorce involve, and how long does it take to finalize?

Divorce ends a legal marital relationship between two spouses who walk away from the divorce as single individuals who are free to legally remarry. 

The length and complexity of finalizing a divorce depends on a number of factors, but most importantly upon the level of cooperation between the divorcing spouses. At one end of the spectrum, a divorce can be a relatively low-hassle process. At the other end of the spectrum, finalizing a divorce can take years and thousands of dollars in legal fees.

For couples who agree there is a need to divorce, Pennsylvania law allows spouses to obtain a no-fault divorce by mutual consent. Ideally, couples who divorce in this manner never have to set foot in a courtroom, and their divorce can be final in as few as 90 days. 

If one spouse wants a no-fault divorce, but the other refuses to consent to it, then under Pennsylvania law the spouse who wants the divorce must wait a full two years before finalizing the divorce. In cases of verifiable marital misconduct, such as abuse or adultery, a spouse can potentially get a divorce sooner than two years even if the other spouse is unwilling to consent to the divorce.

Of course, there is often more to a divorce than simply ending the marital relationship. Divorce can also involve dividing up all of the property that belonged to both spouses, deciding how to arrange the custody of any minor children, and potentially awarding spousal support or alimony. 

If both spouses can agree on how to address these sorts of issues, then they can likely wrap everything up quickly with a marital settlement agreement and avoid spending time in court. Often, good legal counsel will be able to guide divorcing spouses toward a settlement agreement even when there is substantial disagreement on these issues. 

Otherwise, such issues of property, support and custody can involve lengthy and costly litigation in court.

With any divorce, filing the divorce complaint starts divorce proceedings. For no-fault divorces where both spouses consent to the divorce, the spouses must wait for the allotted 90 days after the filing of the complaint. 

This waiting period gives the parties a good opportunity to negotiate any other outstanding property, custody or support issues. After the waiting period has passed, each spouse must sign and file a few simple documents with the court that allow the court to issue a final divorce decree. 

(This article is intended as a discussion of legal topics that are often confusing to many lay people; it is not, and should not be relied on, as legal advice.  Attorney Jesse White is licensed to practice solely in Pennsylvania and any information discussed relates solely to Pennsylvania law. If you feel you need to hire a question for the attorney, contact The Law Office of Jesse White in Cecil  at 724-743-4444 or visit www.jessewhitelaw.com.)

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