When filing a divorce complaint, the grounds or basis for requesting a divorce must be included.
Prior to 1980, divorce litigants were required to allege and prove fault grounds in order to secure a divorce. Fault grounds, set forth in section 3301(a) of the divorce code, include: desertion for one or more years; adultery; cruel and barbarous treatment (abuse); bigamy; prison sentence for 2+ years; and indignities. However, fault grounds require parties to appoint a master and conduct a hearing as to whether fault existed, which could be potentially embarrassing.
Luckily, No Fault Divorces became available in Pennsylvania in 1980. No Fault grounds include Mutual Consent and Irretrievable Breakdown. With Mutual Consent, both parties must file affidavits consenting to the divorce after a 90-day cooling off period. The 90-day period runs from the date of service of the divorce complaint. With Irretrievable Breakdown, only one spouse is required to file an affidavit to move the divorce forward. However, parties must wait one year from the date of separation, before filing that affidavit. Note that the 1 year waiting period runs not from service of the divorce complaint, like with mutual consent, but from the date of separation. That could mean when one party moved out of the martial home, or just communicated their present intention to be divorced.
While waiting for grounds to be established, parties should conduct discovery. Discovery is usually a list of questions called interrogatories, plus a request for production of documents. The purpose is to figure out the parties’ respective income or earning capacities, and what assets and debts were accumulated during your marriage, which must be divided in the divorce. Assets can include bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, stock options, real estate, vehicles, businesses, and other personal property of all kinds. It is reasonable to ask for 2-3 years of statements for each account.
Other issues that should be worked out during the waiting period include child custody and financial support (child support and spousal support or alimony pendente lite).
Equitable distribution is the final stage of the divorce. If equitable distribution was claimed in the divorce complaint or counterclaim, no decree will issue until the parties agree to the division of marital assets and debts. Preferably, parties will come to an agreement themselves. However, if that does not work, either party may file a Motion for the Appointment of an Equitable Distribution Master. To prepare for your hearing with the Equitable Distribution Master, you should have your real estate appraised, and have the marital portion of your retirement and your business evaluated.
For more information, call (610) 222-5959, to schedule your free initial consultation.