Area of Law:
Divorce may be defined as the legal conclusion of a marriage. Married couples do not have a legal or a constitutional right to seek a divorce, but states like Pennsylvania generally grant divorces because to force a couple to stay married would be considered against public policy.
“No-fault” and “fault” are the two types of grounds, or justifications, for divorce in the United States. In some states, no-fault is the only acceptable justification for a divorce, even if fault grounds exist within the marriage. The other states, including Pennsylvania, allow the parties to select either a no-fault or a fault divorce. The Cornell University Law School website, law.cornell.edu, gives a comprehensive overview of divorce and separation law in the United States.
The United States first adopted the concept of a no-fault divorce in the late 1960's, and nearly all of states presently allow for some form of it. A no-fault divorce is one in which the parties do not legally fault, or blame, each other for the divorce. Some examples of the validations for a no-fault divorce include “irreconcilable differences,” “irretrievable breakdown,” or “incompatibility.” Generally, one spouse cannot stop a no-fault divorce, simply because when one spouse wants a divorce and the other spouse does not, this constitutes irreconcilable differences, which justifies a no-fault divorce.
In Pennsylvania, the no-fault grounds for divorce are mutual consent and an irretrievable breakdown. In the case of mutual consent, the court may grant a divorce where it is alleged that the marriage is irretrievably broken and 90 days have passed since the divorce action was filed. An affidavit also needs to be filed by each of the parties stating that they consent to the divorce. The court may also grant a no-fault divorce if a complaint has been filed alleging that the marriage is irretrievably broken and an affidavit has been filed certifying both that the parties have lived separate and apart for at least two years and that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Many states require a “cooling-off” period of separation for a specific length of time before no-fault divorce proceedings can begin. During this time, the couple is required to live separate and apart with the intent that the separation will be permanent. The duration of the cooling-off period varies according to state law. In Pennsylvania, the decree is immediately effective upon issuance, but is subject to appeal.
Some states also allow fault grounds for divorce. Common fault grounds include cruelty, desertion, adultery, prison confinement, habitual intemperance (drunkenness or drug addiction), and impotency. In Pennsylvania, the fault grounds for divorce are adultery, cruelty or violence, desertion for at least one year, an 18-month or longer confinement due to insanity, bigamy, conviction of a crime with an accompanying sentence of two or more years, and subjection to indignities that make life intolerable and burdensome.
Divorce laws in general, as well as the specific grounds necessitated for divorce vary widely across the United States. The American Bar Association provides a variety of information regarding divorce requirements state by state on their Section of Family Law website. A chart comparing all 50 states, including Pennsylvania, can be found at abanet.org.
*An example of a Pennsylvania Divorce Settlement Agreement can be seen on Free Legal Aid.