Same-Sex Divorce Process in Pennsylvania

How to obtain a same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania.

Understanding the process of same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania

In the years leading up to PA overruling the ban on same-sex marriage, many questions have arisen regarding same-sex divorce.  Among other reasons, the decision itself was made in order to allow couples who have been legally married in other states to seek a divorce in Pennsylvania. But many are now asking – how does that work? Does anything differ for a same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania?

It helps to understand how the ruling came to be in the first place. The ruling helps address the need for same-sex couples to be able to divorce. The union would need to be considered valid in Pennsylvania in order to permit a divorce. With more and more neighboring states, and states nationwide recognizing same-sex marriages, there was an impending need for legal divorces to take place. Societal and statistical cues pointed to a potential “divorce boom” with the rise in marriages.

For example, a couple could be married in another state, such as New York, move to Pennsylvania, and then become trapped in an unhappy marriage with no way out. The PA court didn't see the marriage as valid, so neither was a divorce. With this, jurisdiction became an issue as the marrying state would see the couple as no longer being residents; therefore, the divorce could not take place under the jurisdiction of the marrying state either. The result was same-sex couples trapped in unhappy legal relationships with no legal way out.

Because a same-sex marriage is now considered to be legally recognized by Pennsylvania law, so too is the divorce. Therefore, same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania is handled in the same manner as  heterosexual divorce. All of the same rules apply, and can be just as emotional and complicated as any heterosexual divorce. There are several ways to file for divorce in Pennsylvania, all of which are intended to prove or explain why the parties should be divorced:

  1. Fault Divorce: or contested divorce is based upon one spouse committing an act or actions that led to the parties’ need to be divorced. A few grounds for fault based divorce are: desertion, adultery, prolonged imprisonment, or abusive treatment.
  2. No-Fault Divorce: or uncontested divorce, is when both parties agree to the action and sign affidavits consenting to the divorce. There is a 90 day “cooling off” period that commences from the date of filing to allow both parties to evaluate the decision. No hearing is required and a decree can be granted at the end of the 90 days.
  3. 2-Year Divorce: this is another term that is mentioned when filing for divorce. When the parties have been separated for more than two years, certain documentation and affidavits are not required as enough time has elapsed to evidence the breakdown of the marriage.
  4. Collaborative: this form of divorce seeks to separate the parties as amicably as possible. The traditional actions are adversarial in nature (Spouse A. vs. Spouse B.) and seeks to equitably distribute marital assets with court intervention. Collaborative is a newer approach that incorporates both parties and other professionals to complete the process.

Same-sex marriage and same-sex divorce are new for Pennsylvania – as our laws attempt to catch up with societal changes, there are usually some growing pains. If you are considering divorce, it is wise to seek the help of an experienced Bucks County divorce attorney who can accurately walk you through the process. Call our office today to schedule your consultation, (215) 693-6191.