Everything You Need To Know About Contested Divorce in PA

PA Marriage Annulment Process

Unfortunately, not all marriages last a lifetime. Couples who choose to divorce have many things to consider; starting with the type of divorce for which they plan to file.

What does it mean to get a contested divorce in PA?

In Pennsylvania, a contested divorce refers to a situation in which one or both spouses do not agree on one or more key issues related to the divorce. These issues typically include matters like property division, alimony (spousal support), child custody, child support, and any other financial or legal matters related to the dissolution of the marriage. In a contested divorce, the court will need to step in to make decisions on these issues if the spouses cannot come to an agreement on their own. This can involve hearings, negotiations, mediation, and, if necessary, a trial.

 Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, a person can seek a “fault” divorce or a “no-fault” divorce. These terms relate to a person’s right to seek the entry of a divorce decree. Both forms of divorce grounds can be contested.

While rarely used, fault grounds for divorce PA include:

  1. Willful and malicious desertion, and absence from the habitation of the injured and innocent spouse, without a reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years.
  2. Adultery.
  3. One spouse endangering the life or health of the injured and innocent spouse by cruel and barbarous treatment.
  4. Knowingly entering into a bigamous marriage while a former marriage is still subsisting.
  5. Being sentenced to imprisonment for a term of two or more years upon conviction of having committed a crime.
  6. Offering such indignities to the innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome.

Grounds for a no-fault divorce Pennsylvania exist where two parties consent that the marriage is irretrievably broken. They agree to the entry of a divorce and have lived separate and apart for a period of in excess of one year.

Regardless of which form of grounds for the divorce the couple has established (fault, consent or legal separation), according to divorce laws in PA, the parties still have to resolve all financial issues between them before the court can grant the divorce decree. This includes the distribution of assets and debts, matters of financial support, and ancillary claims for attorneys’ fees or costs of litigation. The divison of property may raise complex legal issues in case of a high net worth divorce.

How long does a contested divorce take in Pennsylvania?

Because every divorce case is different, the length of time required to complete a contested divorce varies. Much depends on the issues in each case. Even in cases where the parties reach a mutual consent (agreement) on all terms and opting for an uncontested divorce the process will take about four months to complete. That is because there is a mandatory 90 day waiting period in Pennsylvania. This period begins from the time the divorce complaint is received by the non-filing spouse.

How do I file for a contested divorce in PA?

First you need to meet the residency requirements to file for a divorce in Pennsylvania. Before divorce procedures begin, at least one of the spouses must have resided in the state for six months.

The next step is to decide the type of divorce. Both fault and no-fault divorce can be contested if the parties do not agree in terms. In fault-based divorce proceedings couples are required to prove the misbehavior of their spouse, such as abandonment, adultery or abuse.

File the divorce by filling out the proper divorce forms, your contested divorce attorney will then serve the petition on your spouse.

What to do if your spouse refuses to sign divorce papers in PA?

If your spouse refuses to consent to the divorce and/or refuses to negotiate the financial terms of your divorce, it will be necessary to appoint the Divorce Master in the county in which you filed the divorce action. 

The Divorce Master will take testimony and evidence in order to make recommendations to the court. Recommendations as to the equitable division of assets and debts, issues of alimony, issues of counsel fees, court costs and expenses related to the litigation. This process can be long and arduous. There is generally a pre-trial process in each county to make sure that all discovery is complete and both parties have the required information for the trial of the case. 

After the trial the Divorce Master will write a report and recommendation to the Court. If either side disagrees with the Master’s recommendation, there is an appeals process.

What is a master’s hearing for divorce in PA?

The master’s hearing is an increasingly common pretrial proceeding involved in contested divorce. As described above, its employment is necessary when the spouses were unable to resolve fault divorce claims or property settlements. The divorce master conducts conferences in order to decide issues related to the division of marital property, whether alimony can be warranted or other related economic claims. After hearing testimony and taking evidence the divorce master issues a report with recommendations on marital asset distribution, alimony and counsel fees and other details.

How a contested divorce process might impact your life and how to prepare for it 

Any divorce will have a lasting impact on your life. Specifically contested divorces may pose additional challenges since the two divorcing parties are not in agreement. This may make the divorce process slower or longer, with many obstacles to overcome such as the division of assets and custody rights. Using divorce mediation and the Collaborative divorce process may help parties to communicate rationally and with respect. 

The best way to prepare for a contested divorce is stay focused on what’s most important to you and your future. Developing your forward looking needs, goals and interests will help you identify what you consider acceptable versus unacceptable resolutions. Choosing mediation or Collaborative as a solution for your divorce may increase the likelihood of moving forward with your spouse in a manner that allows for a civil, working relationship for the benefit of your children. When mediation or Collaborative isn’t possible, clear, forward looking goals are still necessary to assist your attorney in preparing a negotiating and litigation strategy.

 Consult with experienced divorce lawyers

Colgan and Associates has established a reputation for helping individuals work through the many aspects of divorce and child custody in Pennsylvania. Especially as it pertains to filing for a contested divorce, the experienced team of PA family law attorneys at Colgan and Associates knows how to navigate challenges and achieve favorable outcomes for your family. 

If you or someone you know is filing for divorce in Pennsylvania, whether contested or not, the first and most important thing you should do is seek trusted legal advice. The Law Office of Colgan and Associates is ready and able to take your call and answer your initial questions.

Contact us today for a free phone consultation at your convenience. Our friendly and informative staff can be reached at 1-800-615-0115.

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