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When I speak with new divorce clients, almost as popular as “How much is this going to cost me?” is the question, “How long is this going to take?” The answer depends on how long you have been separated, and whether your spouse will agree to a divorce.
Let’s assume that there are no additional issues to address such as property division, support or alimony, and that you and your spouse are looking for nothing but the piece of paper that says you are no longer married. In that case, getting a divorce in Pennsylvania is fairly straightforward. If the two of you have been separated for less than two years, the no-fault divorce ground you will use is “mutual consent.” In that case, I like to tell clients that it will take about four months from start to finish, perhaps four-and-a-half.
Why so long? The “mutual consent” ground for divorce includes a mandatory 90-day waiting period between the filing and service of the first documents, and the earliest date that you and your spouse can sign the consent forms. Additionally, the court usually takes between one week and one month to process the final paperwork and issue your decree (depending on the county). You can think of the 90 day wait as a “cooling off” period, during which time either you or your spouse has the right to petition the court to order participation in marriage counseling (although in my experience, no one ever actually does this).
Once you and your spouse have been separated for two years, you can use the “irretrievable breakdown” no-fault divorce ground. Many people in Pennsylvania believe — incorrectly — that divorce is automatic after a two-year separation, but all the two-year separation really means is that you switch to different paperwork to get the decree. Because the 90-day waiting period doesn’t apply anymore, if your spouse cooperates it can reduce the time between the start and finish of your divorce process to about a month-and-a-half.
Whichever ground for no-fault divorce you use, in Pennsylvania you never need to see the inside of a courtroom if both you and your spouse cooperate to get a divorce decree.
Some words of warning: even if you and your spouse are friendly, even if you have decided to file the divorce paperwork yourself, it is a good idea to talk to a family lawyer at least briefly to make sure that you are actually giving yourself the closure that divorce is supposed to bring. I believe that the best time to get out of trouble is long before the trouble starts, and in my experience even well-meaning spouses can find themselves in an expensive fight neither of them wanted because something important was overlooked. Finishing your divorce process while leaving “loose ends” such as undistributed property or an unwritten promise of alimony invites exactly the sort of problem you are trying to avoid.
Another warning: don’t tempt fate by scheduling a wedding before your divorce is final! Obvious, you think? Not necessarily! I can think of two occasions during my career when I managed to get a divorce decree for a client the day before their wedding. I can think of at least one when it turned out to be impossible to get a divorce decree in time. Don’t tempt fate!
A final caution: there are “divorce mill” law firms that advertise cheap services. Before you pay anyone a price that seems too good to be true, ask some questions. Also, before you buy “off the rack” do-it-yourself divorce forms, take a look at the uncontested no-fault divorce kit I offer.
If you need legal assistance with your divorce or family law matter in Southwestern Pennsylvania, call me to set up a personal consultation. This blog will feature periodic updates. Consider subscribing! Please do not comment anonymously, and do not post anything that you consider confidential. I try to be responsive to commentary and questions, but know that posting here will not create an attorney/client relationship and that I will not offer legal advice via the Internet.
Michael B. Greenstein
8012 Westmoreland Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15218