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Is Pennsylvania a no-fault divorce state?

Is Pennsylvania a no-fault divorce state? Yes, but fault-based divorce is also an option. Read on for all you need to know about no-fault divorce in PA.

evident Editorial Team
published
July 31, 2023
Pittsburgh skyline

Wondering whether Pennsylvania is a no-fault state for divorce?

The short answer is yes. Pennsylvania is a no-fault divorce state, which means a spouse doesn’t need to prove fault or wrongdoing to get a divorce.

In Pennsylvania, both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce are available. Historically, only fault grounds for divorce were available, but states (including Pennsylvania) increasingly introduced no-fault grounds for divorce over time.

Key Takeaways

Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania

A fault divorce in Pennsylvania involves one spouse filing for divorce on the basis that the other spouse’s misconduct or wrongdoing led to the breakdown of the marriage. 

Fault grounds for divorce in PA include:

  • Adultery
  • Bigamy
  • Desertion without a reasonable cause for at least one year
  • Cruelty that “endangered the life or health” of the other injured spouse
  • Being convicted of a crime that leads to a sentence of two years or more imprisonment
  • Subjecting the innocent spouse to “indignities” that “render that spouse's condition intolerable and life burdensome”

To obtain a fault-based divorce in PA, the filing spouse must offer evidence to prove the fault ground that is the basis for the divorce.

Pennsylvania No-Fault Divorce

No-fault divorce is the most common type of divorce in Pennsylvania. In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse has to prove fault or wrongdoing by the other party to end the marriage. 

There are three no-fault grounds for divorce in PA:

  • Mutual consent
  • Irretrievable breakdown (with one year of separation)
  • Confinement in a mental hospital 

No-fault divorce in PA can simplify the divorce process by removing the need to prove fault by a spouse, though certain conditions must still be met. 

Mutual Consent

Mutual consent is the easiest and most common no-fault ground for divorce in Pennsylvania. It is similar to other states’ “irreconcilable differences” basis for divorce.

All that is required to obtain a divorce on this basis is:

  • Both parties acknowledge that the marriage is irretrievably broken
  • Both parties file an affidavit consenting to the divorce
  • 90 days have passed since the divorce complaint was filed

As long as these conditions are met, no formal hearing is required for a mutual consent divorce. 

Irretrievable Breakdown (with one year of separation)

This no-fault ground for divorce is available when one of the spouses doesn’t want to end the marriage, and so doesn’t agree to a mutual consent divorce. 

Pennsylvania law calls this ground “Irretrievable breakdown,” but the key requirement is that the couple lives separate and apart for at least one year. 

To get divorced in PA on this ground, one spouse must file a divorce complaint alleging that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that the couple has lived apart for at least one year. 

If the other spouse does not deny those allegations, then the judge may grant the divorce decree without a hearing. But if the other spouse does deny either allegation, then the court will hold a hearing where the judge may evaluate the allegations (i.e. whether the marriage is irretrievably broken and whether the spouses have lived separate and apart for at least one year).

Institutionalization

Less common, but this no-fault ground for divorce is available if a spouse has been confined in a “mental institution” for at least 18 months with no reasonable prospect of being discharged in the following 18 months. 

Uncontested vs Contested No-Fault Divorce

Note that the difference between a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania and a fault-based divorce is separate from the question of whether you are dealing with a contested or uncontested divorce. 

The distinction between fault and no-fault divorce in PA has to do with what grounds for divorce you file under. (E.g. Adultery vs mutual consent).

Whether or not a divorce is contested, though, typically refers to whether divorcing spouses disagree about any of the terms of the divorce, such as alimony, property division, child custody, or similar issues. 

If spouses agree on all divorce-related issues, they may file for an uncontested divorce and submit a marital settlement agreement for the court’s approval. If they disagree about even a single issue–for instance, if they agree on alimony and property division but not child custody–then a divorce is contested and requires greater court supervision.

So a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania could still be a contested divorce. Filing on no-fault grounds means that neither spouse has to prove the other was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, but you could still have to fight things out in court if you can’t reach an agreement on all issues with your ex-spouse.

There is still a wide spectrum of just how contentious your divorce might be, and not every contested divorce has to proceed as a scorched-earth court fight. 

But the key point to remember is simply that no-fault divorces could still be “contested” divorces, as the distinction between fault vs no-fault and contested vs uncontested divorces are two separate issues. 

The Impact of Filing For a Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania

One of the main impacts of filing for divorce in Pennsylvania is that it can make the divorce process more complicated, which can also make it longer and more expensive. 

That said, if a spouse successfully proves fault, it can have other impacts on the outcome. For instance, although marital misconduct will not necessarily affect property division, a judge may consider it when determining alimony in Pennsylvania. It is still only one of many factors the judge will consider in making their award, but it could impact their decision. 

Another consideration is that there is no waiting period for fault-based divorces in Pennsylvania. No-fault divorces based on mutual consent require a 90-day waiting period, and divorces based on one year of separation obviously require a year of living separately. Thus, fault-based divorce could make sense, particularly if there are issues of cruelty or domestic violence involved.  

Advantages of No-Fault Divorce in PA

The primary advantage of no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania is that it can simplify the divorce process. 

Proving fault requires making court appearances, introducing evidence, and more. All of this can add to the time, money, and effort required to get divorced. Additionally, it can be unpleasant and embarrassing to air out marital issues in court. 

There may be plenty to fight about in a no-fault divorce as well (such as spousal support while the divorce is pending, post-divorce alimony, or child custody), but not having to prove fault generally simplifies the issues and the divorce process overall. 

Whether to file under fault or no-fault grounds will depend on your particular circumstances, but no-fault divorces are more common for a reason and often make sense given their potential time and cost savings.

The Final Word on No-Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania

So, is Pennsylvania a no-fault state for divorce? Yes, Pennsylvania is a no-fault divorce state, although fault-based grounds for divorce are also an option. 

Filing for divorce on a fault-based ground can make the process longer and more complicated since you will need to offer evidence to prove fault. But there is no waiting period for filing a fault-based divorce in PA, and proving marital misconduct could affect things such as alimony payments. 

No-fault divorce in Pennsylvania is more common, though, and is often easier and less expensive since neither spouse has to prove the other was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

If you have questions about which option is best for you, it may be worth speaking with an experienced divorce lawyer to discuss your circumstances.