The Pennsylvania Laws on the Spouse Divorcing an Inmate

By Roger Jewell

Inmates playing cards

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The Pennsylvania Code basically defines an inmate as a person committed to a term of imprisonment or in the custody of a county or state facility. Having your spouse qualify as an "inmate" isn't, in and of itself, grounds for divorce although the length of the sentence may cause it to be. Pennsylvania divorce laws also provide other grounds for divorcing an inmate that could apply in cases where the sentence is not long enough to meet other grounds for divorce.

Imprisonment as Divorce Grounds

A spouse's imprisonment is grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania only if he has been sentenced to a term of two or more years. A spouse being committed to a psychiatric facility for a serious mental illness and confinement is anticipated to last for at least 18 months is also a ground for divorce.

Consent or Irretrievable Breakdown

Two other grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania can help expedite a divorce involving an inmate when the sentence is less than two years. These are mutual consent and irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. In either of these case scenarios, the court is allowed to proceed with the divorce process without a hearing. If you can convince your incarcerated spouse to consent, the divorce process can proceed within 90 days of the filing. Divorces sought under either of these two grounds requires the parties to be separated and apart for a period of two years or more prior to the filing of the divorce.

Other Grounds for Divorce

Other grounds for divorce requiring less time apart may be available when the sentence is less than two years. These include willful and malicious desertion and unjustifiable absence from cohabitation for a period of at least one year; adultery; cruel and barbarous treatment endangering the life or health of the “innocent and injured spouse;” knowingly entering into a bigamous marriage while married to another person or when one spouse’s condition becomes “intolerable” and "burdensome" due to indignities offered by her spouse.

Service of Process

Inmates have the right to be served with divorce papers and the opportunity to contest the divorce. Pennsylvania law describes the various methods and manners by which a party can be served with a divorce petition. In uncontested cases, this process is quite simple since the defendant will usually consent in writing to the divorce. Otherwise, the usual manner of service is by certified mail. It would be best to contact the jail or prison to find out its policy regarding mail service. If the inmate wishes to contest the case and appear at a divorce hearing, he is required to seek a court order.