What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania?

grounds for divorce in pennsylvania
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When it comes to the dissolution of marriage, the states in the US fall under two categories: no-fault and fault ones.

  • In a no-fault state, even if divorce is contested, a couple does not need to provide any reasons for wanting to end a marriage except for irreconcilable differences or a spouse’s psychiatric institutionalization.
  • In a state that allows fault-based divorces, a person may choose to file based on either fault or no-fault reasons. A fault in legal language means wrongdoing that was committed by one of the spouses and which caused the breakdown of a union.

Pennsylvania is one of the fault states, and there are 6 fault-based grounds for divorce in PA. Grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania include cruelty, adultery, a 1 year+ desertion, a minimum of a 2-year prison sentence, indignities, and bigamy. There are, however, no-fault options such as irretrievable breakdown, 1-year separation, and mutual consent divorce.

Fault Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

Filing for an at-fault divorce in PA, a person will have to spend lots of money and resources in order to prove the fault of their spouse and try to reach the outcome they expect. That’s why many spouses, even those who were cheated on, may seek to reach an agreement and proceed with their divorce on no-fault grounds and in an uncontested way.

Before you make a decision, here are the PA fault divorce grounds you may file on and their implications.

1) Adultery

Adultery is the sexual relations of one spouse with another person who is not their spouse. The petitioner accusing their spouse of adultery must prove that infidelity had taken place. They should provide some substantial evidence such as text messages, photos, videos, bookings of rooms or apartments, etc. In Pennsylvania, adultery is taken seriously by courts and, if proven, may have an influence on alimony or even child custody.

2) Desertion without solid reasons for at least 1 year

Willful desertion means that one of the spouses has left the family home without any serious reasons without telling their family about it. The act of desertion should last for at least one year for a court to consider it. During this period, the spouses must not reside together or have marital relations with one another.

3) Cruelty

Cruel treatment becomes a ground for divorce if it has devastating consequences for the petitioner. These can be putting their life in danger or harming their mental and/or physical health, i.e., domestic violence. The innocent spouse may obtain a Protection from Abuse Order if their spouse is stalking or threatening them during the trials.

4) Bigamy

If the petitioner finds out that their spouse has already been married and did not finalize their divorce before getting married to them, they can file based on bigamy. Moreover, bigamy is considered illegal in PA, and the spouse having committed this act may face two years of imprisonment.

5) Imprisonment for more than 2 years

Committed crime and subsequent imprisonment of a spouse is a divorce ground only if they are sentenced for more than 2 years. You will have to choose another reason for divorce if your spouse went to jail or was imprisoned for a shorter period.

6) Indignities

Subjecting someone to indignities means making their life miserable and unbearable without resorting to physical violence. These can be humiliations, verbal abuse, and other actions that make the life of an innocent spouse extremely hard.

woman going through no-fault divorce in PA

No-Fault Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

A no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania is a much easier, cheaper, and quicker process compared to a fault-based one. Is Pennsylvania a no-fault state for divorce though? Not quite, as there are both fault and no-fault options you can choose from. The no-fault grounds for marriage dissolution in Pennsylvania are mutual consent (when a marriage is irretrievably broken), a 1-year separation, and the second party’s psychiatric institutionalization.

1) No-Fault Divorce Based on Mutual Consent

The irretrievable breakdown of marriage means that the spouses no longer find it possible to continue living together as a couple and cannot repair their relationships. To divorce by mutual agreement, spouses have to decide what to do with their finances, agree on custody, and divide their assets. There is a mandatory 3-months waiting period for those filing based on this ground.

Many PA couples ask, “does divorce have to be mutual?” If you want to have a quick uncontested divorce, it must be mutual. If one of the parties appears to disagree with the decisions made at some point, the dissolution case may become contested, lengthy, and expensive.

2) No-Fault Divorce After One-Year Separation

This kind of marriage dissolution becomes an option when one of the parties does not agree to proceed with mutual consent divorce. In this case, a judge can finalize the case if these conditions are met:

  • The petitioner files a Complaint stating that the marriage is irretrievably broken
  • The petitioner files an affidavit stating that spouses haven’t lived under one roof for at least one year.

PA divorce after 1-year separation is in no way “automatic,” and spouses have to go through the proper court process to end their marriage.

3) No-Fault Divorce Based on a Spouse's Psychiatric Institutionalization

Divorcing someone who is mentally ill also falls under no-fault grounds. A judge can grant a divorce if one of the spouses has been admitted to a mental institution for at least 18 months before the Complaint was filed with the court.  

Proving mental illness in divorce requires the petitioner to provide evidence that there are no positive changes in the mental state of their institutionalized spouse and there is little to no chance of hospital discharge in the nearest future. Such proof may be given by a few medical professionals. As a mentally ill spouse is unable to defend their interests in court, a judge will appoint a guardian for such a person to allow for fair decision-making.