The fighting. The cheating. The slow drift apart. For many couples, there comes a point in marriage where “I do” becomes “I don’t want to anymore.” Before you rush to the courthouse to get a divorce decree, consider these 6 realities of getting divorced in Pennsylvania.
1. Divorce Does More Than Make You Single Again
A divorce decree has the power to do more than just remove the wedding ring from your finger. A divorce proceeding begins when one spouse files a complaint against the other. In addition to asking the court to terminate the parties’ marriage, a divorce complaint can request that the court determine custody of the couple’s children, provide for spousal and child support, and even distribute marital property the couple accumulated.
Each “count” or issue raised in a divorce complaint will be treated separately through its own series of conferences and hearings. Practically speaking, this means a divorcing couple could have multiple court appearances to determine custody, support, and property issues, with each of these major issues running along its own independent “track” and operating on its own timetable.
2. The Court Rarely Cares Whose “Fault” The Divorce Is
By the time many couples file for divorce, emotions are raw. Each partner may have collected a catalogue of offenses committed by the other. Interestingly, the court rarely cares to hear the details of these painful tales of love lost. Pennsylvania is a “no fault” divorce state, which means either spouse can file a complaint to end the marriage without offering proof of marital misconduct such as adultery, desertion, or cruel and barbarous treatment.
A no-fault divorce can be granted once a couple has been separated for as little as 90 days if both parties consent or for at least a year if one party resists the divorce. Under the provisions for no-fault divorce, the court does not take into account bad behavior on either side when deciding matters of equitable distribution, alimony, or child and spousal support. Rather, these issues are determined by formulas and factors established under Pennsylvania law. So, as you march up the courthouse steps, just remember, generally, the courtroom is no place for tabloid stories of a marriage gone wrong.
3. Divorces Are Like Snowflakes—Every One Is Unique
Because divorce is so common, almost everyone has a friend, co-worker, or family member who has previously navigated this process. It is easy to make comparisons between your situation and that of another. But be forewarned! Outcomes in family law matters can vary widely. The facts of every family situation are unique. Differences in people’s educational backgrounds, employment histories, relative incomes, patterns of sharing parenting duties, and accumulated marital property can have significant effects on how the court awards custody, support, and property between the spouses.
Even when factual circumstances appear to be similar, personalities can skew the course a divorce will take. For example, in high conflict divorces, simple matters can turn into complicated litigation if a spouse commits to being contentious. What might be a simple divorce for one couple can be a “War of the Roses” for another. Try to avoid comparing your situation to others’ experiences. Failure to do so usually leads only to frustration and disappointment in your own divorce matter.
4. The Traditional Divorce Process Is Slow
Despite all the ads and flyers for “quickie divorces,” there is one thing divorce rarely is: quick. The only exception is divorce mediation. With each aspect of a divorce chugging along on its own litigation track, couples can expect to find themselves in court numerous times before all their legal issues are resolved. It is not uncommon to wait months for a court date. In Montgomery County, PA for example, courts are backlogged and it can take many months to get a hearing date. Divorces in Montgomery County can drag on for years. And that is not unique to Montgomery County. Philadelphia is even worse. Sick of their partner and ready to be free, many people are surprised to discover they are going nowhere fast.
The snail’s pace of divorce is only made worse by the fact that many issues require multiple conferences and hearings before the matter is fully resolved. Even the quickest divorces where the parties consent to the divorce and have no property to divide routinely take between four to six months to complete. If you have children, property, or an uncooperative spouse, a divorce can take several years. And yes, there are rare cases where the divorce process has dragged on for the better part of a decade!
5. There Are No “Winners” In Divorce
Divorce represents the death of once-important dreams. For many, divorce can be financially devastating, decimating accumulated wealth and reducing incomes for years to come. It can take a psychological toll on the spousal combatants. And of course, children often suffer the most when parental hostilities deprive them of the benefits of two loving, attentive parents.
Some divorcing partners employ a “winner take all” approach to divorce proceedings. They turn every hearing into a grudge match and reject every offer to settle—no matter how good. They will stop at nothing short of total destruction of their soon-to-be former partner. But in the end, there are no winners in divorce.
The best advice: don’t add fuel to the fire. Settle your differences civilly before anger and bitterness consume you—and your resources. There is such a thing as amicable divorce!
6. Traditional Divorce Can Be Expensive, But There Are Alternatives
Why have an amicable divorce? One good reason is that the average cost of a litigated divorce in Montgomery County is approximately $25,000 per side! Yes, if you want to bring your $250 to $350 per hour lawyer to each and every conference and hearing for custody, support, and equitable distribution, it is going to cost you a pretty penny! Don’t forget: this is the cost for an average divorce. Add in a high conflict spouse, unusual assets, or a custody war and that figure will soar. With the psychological and economic costs of an ugly divorce in mind, more and more people are seeking alternatives to the traditional battlefield of the courtroom.
Alternatives such as collaborative divorce and mediation provide couples with productive and penny-wise options for dissolving their union and crafting a new life on the other side of divorce. Divorce doesn’t have to mean war, and people don’t have to spend the equivalent of the Pentagon’s budget to wage battle.
There is a choice. There is an option. There is SnapDivorce.