What is the first step in the divorce process?

|September 22, 2022 | divorce

As in other states, in Pennsylvania divorcing couples generally pursue either an uncontested or contested process for ending their marriage.

In an uncontested divorce, the couple comes to an agreement outside of court on matters like property division, child custody and spousal support. In a contested divorce, spouses are not in total agreement, and a judge will need to decide on disputed issues. However, the first step for either a contested or uncontested divorce is filing a Divorce Complaint with the appropriate county prothonotary office.

Where to file a Notice to Defend and Divorce Complaint

A Divorce Complaint is similar to a summons; the document informs the receiving spouse that the other has filed for divorce and establishes that fact in the public record. In most cases, the filing spouse must provide appropriate paperwork in the county where the other party resides.

However, the petitioning spouse may be able to file in his or her own county if:

  • The receiving spouse does not live in Pennsylvania
  • The receiving spouse agrees to file in the county where the other resides
  • The filing spouse has continued to live in the county where the couple lived when married
  • It has been more than six months since the spouses permanently separated

How to file the paperwork

The county office will require the Divorce Complaint as well as two copies. Office agents will then timestamp all three documents, retain the original on file in the county office, and return the two copies to the filing spouse.

Once the county office has filed and timestamped the complaint, the filing spouse has a limited time to serve the divorce paperwork to the receiving spouse.

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