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In 1980, Pennsylvania joined the majority of states that allow No Fault Divorces in addition to Fault Ground Divorces found in earlier laws. In a No Fault Divorce, when ninety (90) days have passed from serving the Divorce Complaint, and when both parties have signed consents to the divorce, and all economic issues have been resolved, a divorce can be granted without the need for a hearing. Even with a No Fault Divorce, either party may contest custody, support or property matters.

If one party wishes to proceed with a divorce and the other party will not consent to a No Fault Divorce, the party requesting the divorce can obtain one without the other's consent either by proving Fault Grounds or by waiting until the parties have been separated for more than one year (two years if separation occurred before December 5, 2016.) Separation generally occurs when the parties no longer reside together as husband and wife but such physical separation is not always necessary.

To be entitled to a Fault Divorce, one party must prove that he or she is innocent and injured, and the other party has done something that is covered in the six listed grounds for fault divorces among which are adultery, physical or verbal abuse.

In Pennsylvania, all marital property is subject to equitable distribution. With some exceptions, all property acquired during the marriage is marital property. It does not matter how the property is titled or whose paycheck was used to purchase the property. The Court will distribute the marital property equitably, or fairly. Equitable distribution may or may not be equal distribution.

In making an equitable distribution award, the Court considers many factors including the age, health, income and employability of each spouse, the contribution of one spouse to the education or training of the other spouse and the contributions of a homemaker. If there are children, the Court will also consider which parent has primary custody. In making an equitable distribution award, the Court is not permitted to consider marital misconduct.

Divorce can be an emotionally upsetting experience. Disputes about property, child custody, child support and other matters can be very damaging to all involved. If possible, it is best to resolve these issues through an agreement. This agreement is generally negotiated between the parties through their attorneys. Once the agreement is accepted and signed by oth parties, it can be presented to the Court and enforced as an Order of Court through a Divorce Decree. If the agreement is later broken by one party, the other party can go to Court to have that agreement enforced.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the Court will appoint a Divorce Master, who will hold a hearing and make a recommendation to the Court regarding the divorce and property issues.

Before signing an agreement regarding divorce and property rights, it is important to receive legal advice. Each party should have their own attorney. Without a Court Order or an agreement between the parties, each party is responsible for their own attorney's fees. Although the Court will sometimes order the financially independent spouse to pay attorney's fees for the financial dependent spouse, in most cases each party must pay for his or her own attorney.

Revised 12/30/16

If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on divorce proceedings, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.