By definition, marriage is a civil contract between one man and one woman (may soon change). In Pennsylvania the parties must obtain a marriage license and the marriage must be solemnized to have a statutorily valid marriage. Once the parties are married, there are three ways to legally dissolve the marital contract. The parties must petition the court to order the dissolution and can claim either Fault or No-Fault Grounds (Bilateral or Unilateral). Additionally, the parties must decide how they are going to allocate the marital property, determine support/alimony, and custody of the children. This can be established either through a negotiated settlement, mediation, or by the court. A general discussion of divorce and marital property is below. For a detailed consultation, please contact us at 844-815-9632.
Grounds for a Divorce
Essentially, a fault divorce is when one party is claiming that they should no longer be bound to the marital contract because of the actions of the other spouse. There are seven justifiable “grounds” for a fault divorce. They are desertion, adultery, cruel and barbarous treatment, bigamy, imprisonment, indignities, and insanity or serious mental disorder. Asserting grounds for a fault divorce requires that you establish the claim with the court. This can be very costly and time consuming. In a vast majority of cases this is the least desirable method for obtaining a divorce. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Divorce Code limits the party’s ability to bring a fault divorce if no-fault grounds are met.
No-Fault Grounds for a Divorce – Bilateral or Unilateral
A bilateral or mutual consent divorce is granted by the court when both parties to the marriage acknowledge to the court that the marriage is irretrievably broken (not very likely the marriage will be salvaged) of and ninety days elapsed since the commencing the divorce action.
A unilateral divorce will be granted if the parties can establish that the marriage is irretrievably broken and they have lived separate and apart for at least two years.
Basically, all property acquired during the marriage, with a few exceptions, is considered marital property. Increases in the value of non-marital property (property acquired before the marriage) is also considered marital property. This includes Pensions, Businesses, Houses, Retirement Accounts, Cars, and so on.
When determining the allocation of marital property, the parties can negotiate an agreed upon Property Settlement Agreement, whereby the parties set forth who gets what or the court can decide via equitable distribution. Equitable distribution means that the court (a Judge) will divide the marital property fairly between the parties. This does not mean that it will be split 50/50; however, the judge will look to a few factors (length of marriage, prior marriages, contributions of the parties, age, health, etc.) and make their decision. Bottom line, the parties can decide or a judge can decide how to split up the property.