Fault or no-fault: That is the question.

Whether you and your spouse married less than a year ago, or your wedding day is now decades past, you’d likely agree with other Pennsylvania spouses who admit marriage can be quite challenging at times. If you and your spouse have children together, certain marital and/or family problems may seem exacerbated when taking their best interests into account. Many married couples determine their unions simply can’t last a lifetime. For some, the question then becomes whether to file for a fault or no-fault divorce.

All 50 states recognize no-fault divorce as a possible viable option for spouses choosing to sever their marital ties in court. However, the specifications and requirements associated with no-fault divorce tend to vary by state.

First, a look at fault divorce

To gain a better understanding of no-fault divorce, it’s often helpful to research its alternative. Following is a list of various reasons and conditions pertinent to fault divorces:

  • Many states no longer recognize fault divorce at all. In Pennsylvania, it’s rare, although this state does allow six separate grounds for fault divorce, including cruel treatment, adultery, desertion and a spouse’s incarceration.
  • When filing for fault divorce under these (or other accepted) grounds, there are often additional requirements to meet before the court will grant the divorce.
  • Proof of fault may affect marital property division in some states. It’s always best to seek clarification of the laws in one’s own state before beginning divorce proceedings.
  • Claiming abandonment as grounds for a fault divorce often requires proof that a spouse has been absent for a certain period of time.
  • In situations where both spouses accuse the other of fault, the court determines which spouse is most at fault.

Pennsylvania actually requires a separate court process for fault divorce claims. An official is typically assigned to review evidence, then informs the judge whether a claim is valid (meaning, adequate evidence to prove fault exists).

The alternative to fault divorce

You’ve probably heard phrases, such as “irreconcilable differences” or “irreparable damage” in regard to marital dissolution. You might choose to say you and your spouse simply can’t get along or that attempts to restore your marital relationship were not successful. Either way, these are common terms associated with no-fault divorce. Pennsylvania law requires you to live separately from your spouse for one whole year before either of you files a no-fault claim in court.

Governor Tom Wolfe changed the law in 2016. Prior to that time, the requirement was actually two years’ separation. Since state and federal laws often get upgraded or changed, it’s typically best to discuss a particular situation with an experienced family law attorney before heading to court. An attorney has access to the most current information and can provide sound counsel and appropriate guidance according to your needs.

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