Before the pandemic, many divorcing or separated couples chose to still live in the same home. In some cases, they may have wanted to continue co-parenting. In others, one party may have been worried that leaving home would give their spouse sole possession of a significant asset. In many cases, couples may be unable to afford two mortgages or rents. While divorcing couples can often civilly cohabitate, the pandemic effectively trapped people in their homes with little outside relief or social support. On top of the stress of divorce, couples may now be facing an uncertain financial future, layoffs, furloughs, and considerably changed asset valuation. In these cases, couples may seek to renegotiate previously signed financial agreements as well.
In 2019, there were just under 33,000 divorces and annulments in Pennsylvania. Across the U.S., there were more than 782,000 divorces. For part of 2020, many courthouses were closed or had limited public access due to COVID-19. While March is usually the peak time for divorce filings, many divorce and child custody cases may have been effectively put on hold by the pandemic. Now that many communities have opened up more, courts are back to business as usual, and divorces and child custody actions are now surging in Pennsylvania.
Divorce Process in Pennsylvania
To get a divorce in Pennsylvania, one or both spouses must have lived in the state for six months. The spouse who files is the plaintiff, and they explain why they should have a divorce. The responding spouse will be the defendant. There are three types of divorce in Pennsylvania:
- Divorce by Mutual Consent
If both parties agree to the divorce, 90 days after filing the complaint, each party can file a statement with the court. The statement should indicate that the marriage is irretrievably broken, that each wants a divorce, and ask the court to grant it.
- Unconsented Divorce
If only one party wants a divorce, a court may still grant the divorce if:
- The couple has been living separately and apart for at least one year, and
- The plaintiff shows that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
The couple can still live “separately and apart” even if they live in the same home as long as they live separate lives. But even so, a plaintiff can't ask for a final divorce decree for at least one year.
- Fault-based Divorce
Fault-based divorces are still an option in Pennsylvania if:
- One spouse won't agree to the divorce;
- The couple hasn't separated for a year;
- The spouse seeking the divorce doesn't want to wait a year and can show that the defendant spouses did something wrong.
The fault-based reasons for divorce include desertion for a year or more, bigamy, adultery, a jail sentence of two years or more for any crime, indignities making the plaintiff's life unbearable, and cruel treatment which is a danger to the life or health of the plaintiff.
Child Custody in Pennsylvania
A court does not have to determine child support and custody at the same time as a divorce. The court can decide these matters at any time, so Pennsylvania courts are also seeing an increase in child support and custody cases. Couples facing furloughs, layoffs, and economic uncertainty due to the pandemic may need to change their custody and support arrangements.
If you are facing a separation, divorce, or child custody matter, or need to change your custody or financial arrangements as a result of the pandemic, call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 or contact them online to discuss your options.