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How to File For Divorce in Pennsylvania

Divorce, also commonly referred to as annulment of marriage, is a legal decision between two married people to dissolve the marriage legally. Chapter 33 Subchapter A of Pennsylvania Family Court legislation outlines the general provisions of marriage dissolution. Both Pennsylvania state and county agencies are responsible for maintaining and disseminating records of divorce. Third-party websites such as may also provide access to divorce records and general information about divorce.

In 2018, the Pennsylvania divorce rate was 8.4, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health Marriage and Divorce Statistical Report. There are two types of divorces: fault and no-fault. A no-fault divorce is when neither party is at fault for the marriage dissolution, and both sides agree it would be best. This type of divorce typically takes 4 to 5 months, counting the 90 day waiting period and court process. Once a divorce record or decree is generated, the divorce is finalized.

Do I need a Reason for Divorce in Pennsylvania?

According to Pennsylvania code 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3301(a), parties have the power to file for a fault-based divorce based on the following grounds:

  • Abandonment for a period of one or more years
  • Adultery or cheating
  • Cruel and barbarous treatment including domestic violence or other acts that put a life at risk
  • Bigamy or marriage without legal divorce from a previous spouse
  • Imprisonment of the for two or more years
  • The other spouse making the filing party's life unbearable due to intolerable treatment

The grounds for filing a no-fault divorce according to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3301(b)-(e) are:

  • Mutual consent: when both parties agree that the marriage cannot be fixed. A divorce based on mutual consent requires both spouses to file an affidavit for consent to end the marriage. This filing will not require a court hearing.
  • Irretrievable breakdown: when both parties agree that the marriage cannot be fixed and have lived apart for at least one year. A divorce based on this ground requires only one filing from one spouse, but if the other spouse contests it, the judge may decide whether to grant a divorce or not.
  • Institutionalization: when one spouse has a mental illness that necessitates hospitalization for at least 18 months and shows no recovery signs.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

Why do I need a Divorce Lawyer?

In a divorce process, attorneys can play a significant role. Although it is possible to file for divorce without speaking to an attorney, it may be helpful to seek one out to see what rights each spouse holds. After submitting, a lawyer can help the party understand the laws regarding divorce and the length of time it can take for processing or signing. If the divorce case moves to trial, it is the attorney's job to express demands regarding child custody, alimony, spousal and child support, and shared property.

How do I Get Started in a Divorce in Pennsylvania?

To begin to file for divorce in Pennsylvania, one or both spouses must be residents of the state for at least six months. If a spouse wishes to file for divorce without consent from the other, that spouse is the plaintiff. The plaintiff must file all necessary paperwork and submit them along with the required fees to the Court of Common Pleas in the county, which is the court that hears family law cases. Once this has been done, it is necessary to make sure that the other spouse is served with divorce papers, which can be done by hiring a sheriff or other agent of law but cannot be done by the plaintiff.

How to File for Divorce in Pennsylvania Without a Lawyer?

Pennsylvania state law does not require hiring a divorce lawyer to aid in the divorce process, although it is recommended. Plaintiffs can represent themselves in court by researching laws and requirements for divorce. If the plaintiff wishes to file a fault divorce, it is necessary to prove that fault in court for a judge.

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How Does Pennsylvania Divorce Mediation Work?

In Pennsylvania, divorce mediation is an alternative process than taking the case to court. This process allows both parties to make agreements by hiring a mediator, a neutral third party willing to moderate the conversation to settle.

How Long After Mediation is Divorce Final in Pennsylvania?

After mediation, the mediator can assist with the filing of divorce papers and stating the terms of the divorce. Typically, after the 90-day processing time, the judge will grant the parties a divorce.

Are Divorce Records Public in Pennsylvania?

The Right to Know Act, also known as the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law, under the Pennsylvania state open records law 65 Pa. Cons. Stat. Secs. 67.101 to 67.3104, states that all documents generated by government bodies in the state are accessible to the public. Since 1804, records have been maintained by the Prothonotary's Office in the county or the specific courthouse where the divorce was finalized.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How do I Get Pennsylvania Divorce Records?

Although by law, divorce records are public, the files may prove challenging to obtain due to the personal nature of the information held within them. Specific information is required to make a divorce record request, including:

  • Full name and a photocopy of valid photo identification of the requesting party
  • One or both of the spouse's name involved in the divorce
  • Specific details about where the divorce was finalized
  • The date that the divorce was issued
  • Justification for the party accessing these records

Divorce records and divorce decrees are typically only available to the parties involved in the divorce, including attorneys and judges. Divorce certificates, on the other hand, can be accessed by members of the public by contacting the state Vital Records office at the Pennsylvania Department of Health or the courthouse where the divorce was finalized.

To access divorce records from the Divisions of Vital Records by mail, parties must submit a written request with all necessary information to begin a search. This information, along with a varying fee paid by check or money order should be mailed to:

Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103

Requests for these records can also be made over the phone to:

Pennsylvania Department of Health
625 Forster St,
Harrisburg, PA 17120
(724) 656-3100

Online access to divorce records in Pennsylvania is limited, although it may be possible through certain county courthouse websites if there is a search portal or database provided. Divorce records may also be available through third-party websites, but the accuracy and availability may vary due to the lack of government affiliation.

Even if a request is made with all required information and fees, it may be denied, or the records could be sealed. The government body that receives the request is responsible for determining whether the records should remain sealed to the requesting party. Some reasons that requesting parties may not receive a full divorce record that has been requested include:

  • Information held within the record requires redaction
  • Lack of staff to search for and obtain the requested record
  • The records are kept in a facility that is difficult to access and therefore will take extra time to deliver
  • The government body concludes that more information is needed before releasing the record for public viewing
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