Multi-state divorce

|April 27, 2020 | divorce

It’s hard enough to go through a divorce in Pennsylvania. Imagine going through a divorce in multiple states.

Generally, divorce falls under state law, and every state has its own set of divorce laws, with their own procedures, deadlines and requirements. While many of these are very similar, some can be quite different.

For instance, for a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania, the parties must have been living separately for one year before one can file for divorce. The law has been this way only since 2016. Before then, the parties had to be living separately for two years. Some states require a separation period of only six months.

Perhaps even more important, states have different standards for how property must be divided in a divorce. Some states, mostly in the western part of the country, follow a system known as Community Property, in which almost all property acquired during the marriage is considered to be owned equally by the parties. In the event of a divorce, a court starts with the presumption that all the community property should be divided 50-50, although in reality the final result may look very different.

Pennsylvania and most other states follow a system known as equitable distribution. Under this system, the parties can own separate property during the marriage, but in a divorce, the court will find that equity, or basic fairness, requires that the other party should be compensated for the loss of that property upon the dissolution of the marriage. For instance, the title to a family car may list only one spouse’s name, making that person the legal owner. However, upon divorce, a court may find the other spouse has a claim to a share of the car. The court looks at a list of factors to decide how much of a share this should be.

Things can get really complicated when a married couple has acquired property, or still owns property in multiple states. Couples who have moved cross-country often find that in divorce, they must comply with the laws of multiple states when dividing their property. These cases require the help of skilled attorneys.

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