Dissecting Misconceptions about Divorce in Pennsylvania

Divorce tips, myths, and other tidbits

If you are considering divorce, you may feel that learning more about it will alleviate the stress of making a decision.  Friends and family may be offering lots of divorce tips, and surely the internet can confuse things.  Many couples need help dissecting misconceptions about divorce in Pennsylvania.  Some common misconceptions about divorce involve fault based divorce, who files first, the existence of legal separation, and annulments.

1.  Husband v. Wife - Fault based divorce

What is surely an understatement, it should be noted that the United States has evolved its opinions on divorce over the past few decades.  Starting slightly before the Reagan years (and initiated by Reagan himself, as a Governor in the late sixties), no-fault divorce law revolutionized the ease of divorce and the concept of marriage.  Prior to these changes, our laws only permitted couples to divorce for specific reasons such as adultery, cruel and barbarous treatment, and desertion to name a few.  The parties would have to prove to the courts that their marriage was nothing short of a nightmare in order to be divorced.

Eventually, it became evident that not all couples fit the law’s rigid (and dreadful) interpretation of a couple that should be divorced.  Many couples found themselves conspiring together in an effort to be divorced; fabricating evidence of adultery, faking abuse and so forth.  Ultimately, the courts caught on and now most states have no-fault divorce.  In Pennsylvania, this means filing § 3301 (c) and/or (d) of the PA code, and often leaving (a) and (b) out of it.

Filing under (c) and (d) indicates mutual consent and irretrievable breakdown, with the parties having been separated for two years.  See?  Not nearly as much mudslinging and misery as you may have initially thought.

2.  "I win! First to file"… Not exactly.

Filing first is a very common misconception about divorce, as many hope it will advance their position to their favor. In many areas of life, being the first to act has its benefits; however, in Pennsylvania, it bears no effects on the results of your divorce.  The Plaintiff vs. Defendant captions harken back to the time when full trials to prove fault were a necessary evil.  Watered down, an entire packet will be submitted and a Judge will make sure it looks fair (that’s if parties can work out their agreements as to how assets, tangible and intangible, will be divided).  Of course, there are many other factors that crop up but the result is unlikely to be affected by whether or not you filed first.

 3.  “We don't want to be divorced, just legally separated.”

For whatever reason, this sounds easier and cheaper than getting a divorce which holds some appeal.  Unfortunately, it technically does not exist in Pennsylvania.

There is not much gray area under the laws of our state.  Some couples choose to draft a “separation agreement” effective from the time they choose to end the relationship and prior to filing for divorce.  That agreement is to smooth out how shared debts or custody is handled before a divorce is initiated with the court.  Couples hold off for many reasons including continuity of health benefits, or financial difficulties.

Otherwise, you’re just separated and still married.  Once you file for divorce, you will be required to determine the date of separation, which is really just when you stopped acting like a couple (even if you lived together after that time).  There are other states that do have documents officially separating couples; however, Pennsylvania requires couples establish date of separation, file affidavits and other documentation to make it official.  Once that occurs, you will receive a physical divorce decree.

4.  Let’s just make it like it never happened…annulment!

Wouldn’t that be nice?  Unfortunately, it is only in specific and unusual situations where an annulment can be granted.

The grounds for annulment in PA include the following scenarios:

  • Where either party to the marriage was under 16 years of age unless the marriage was expressly authorized by the court.
  • Where either party was 16 or 17 years of age and lacked the consent of parent or guardian or express authorization of the court and has not subsequently ratified the marriage upon reaching 18 years of age and an action for annulment is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony.
  • Where either party to the marriage was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and an action for annulment is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony.
  • Where either party to the marriage was at the time of the marriage and still is naturally and incurably impotent unless the condition was known to the other party prior to the marriage.
  • Where one party was induced to enter into the marriage due to fraud, duress, coercion or force attributable to the other party and there has been no subsequent voluntary cohabitation after knowledge of the fraud or release from the effects of fraud, duress, coercion or force.

If you feel these apply to your marriage, another factor to consider is the division of assets.  If you contend that your marriage was voidable and never legitimate, you have no entitlement to shared assets accumulated over the course of the marriage.  There would be no equitable distribution like in a divorce; you would be returned to your original position prior to the marriage.

myths and misconceptions

Instead of sifting through the myths, call our office to schedule a consultation with a Bucks County Divorce Attorney.  Our firm can help assess your particular situation and guide you through the process.  Call our office at (215) 942-2100 to set up a consultation.