Pennsylvania Family Law: An Overview
Family issues tend to be messy with high emotions. A minor squabble between two divorcees over who gets what can evolve into a hostile, protracted dispute. An engaged couple can get so caught up in the details of their wedding plans that they forget to think about legally protecting their interests.
If you have an issue in your marriage or divorce about child support, domestic abuse or anything related to your family, Pennsylvania family laws provide the rules that regulate the legal proceedings that can result from your issue. These laws and the attorneys who are experienced with them help to guide families through these highly emotional issues.
Pennsylvania’s family laws cover a variety of topics related to marriage, divorce, and family life from applying for a marriage license to dividing marital property between divorcees.
Whether you have a family law case in Scranton, Erie, or Philadelphia, LawInfo is your source for information and legal help. LawInfo’s Pennsylvania Family Law section includes legal overviews, summaries of state laws and other resources to help you make the right decisions for you and your family. Pennsylvania family law attorneys can assist you with any of the following topics (and many more).
Pennsylvania Marriage License
As you and your fiancé plan your wedding, you will need to incorporate the time requirements of a marriage license into your schedule. A marriage license is valid only for 60 days after being issued and there is a three-day waiting period between finishing a license application and receiving the license. You should plan your wedding day sometime within the 60-day period.
A Pennsylvania marriage license is valid anywhere within the state regardless of which city or county you applied from. While the marriage license fees may differ from place to place, the application requirements are the same across the state:
- Both applicants must appear at their local Marriage License Bureau of the Register of Wills in person to apply for the license.
- Applicants must be 18 years of age or older. Applicants between the ages of 15 and 18 must attain both written parental or guardian consent and a written approval from an Orphans’ Court Division of the Common Pleas judge.
- Applicants must not be related to one another. This includes parents and children, siblings, uncles/aunts and nephews/nieces, or first cousins.
- If an applicant was previously married, he/she must tender proof of divorce or a death certificate if the previous spouse is deceased.
- Applicants must tender photo identification.
Pennsylvania Divorce Requirements
There are a number of reasons why a marriage ends, from domestic abuse to abandonment, or to simply falling out of love. Few states permit total “no-fault” divorces, where specific grounds are unneeded for a couple to legally qualify for a divorce. In Pennsylvania, however, there are “fault” and “no-fault” divorces.
A Pennsylvania no-fault divorce involves one spouse filing a complaint alleging that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown. After 90 days from the complaint’s filing, both spouses can file an affidavit in which the other, non-filing spouse can consent with or challenge the divorce. If he/she challenges the divorce, the case goes to court. The judge can then decide if there was an irretrievable breakdown or if marriage counseling is required.
A Pennsylvania fault divorce requires the divorce to meet specific grounds. A fault divorce involves one spouse filing a complaint of certain mistreatment by the other spouse. These are the only acceptable grounds for a fault divorce:
- Conviction and imprisonment for a crime lasting two years or longer
- Cruel and barbarous treatment such as domestic violence
- Willful abandonment without a reasonable cause for one year or longer
- Humiliation of the innocent spouse to the point of making life burdensome and intolerable
The court may also grant a divorce if a spouse was institutionalized at a mental hospital for at least 18 months prior to filing for divorce and will likely remain for 18 months longer.
Distribution of Marital Property in Pennsylvania
When a couple gets divorced, one of the toughest and often most emotionally-charged decisions they must face is how to divide their belongings and debts.
A lot of people are used to hearing how divorcees get half of everything and how it’s sometimes an unfair division. Only a handful of states use this method of dividing everything in half called “community property” division. In Pennsylvania, marital property is equitably divided and distributed.
Only marital property is divided. This includes anything the couple bought and owned jointly after being married. Separate property, including any property owned individually prior to the wedding or inherited, earned or gifted to each spouse after the marriage, usually remains with its original owner.
While an equitable division may end up not being equal in value or quantity, it is considered fair based on a number of factors a judge must weigh. These factors include each divorcee’s income, age and health among other individual qualifications. The length of a marriage is also considered.
Typically, the divorcee with more needs can be awarded a larger share of the marital property.
When Do I Need a Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney?
Whether you need a family law attorney depends on a number of factors specific to your case. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Few couples need a lawyer to get married but attorneys may be required if there’s a prenuptial agreement involved.
Individuals often benefit from hiring an attorney when dealing with divorce, child support, and especially child custody matters. Because emotions can run high during some divorces, hiring an attorney to negotiate and resolve difficult issues can be invaluable.
Many lawyers offer free initial consultations, so it may be worth your time to speak with an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney if you have additional questions.