What Do I Need to Do to Contest a No-Fault Divorce in Pennsylvania?
By Beverly Bird
Pennsylvania offers spouses more ways to get divorced than most states. In addition to several fault grounds, the state offers two separate no-fault options. The first and easiest no-fault option involves spouses jointly signing and filing a mutual complaint for divorce, so contesting the process is not an issue. Pennsylvania's other no-fault option is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and a spouse can contest these grounds.
Go online to a legal document provider or visit the Court of Common Pleas in your county to access a form for an "Answer and Counterclaim." This is your means of notifying the court you're not in agreement with the no-fault divorce your spouse has requested.
Fill out the Answer and Counterclaim. This is a two-part document. The first part, which is the answer segment, typically contains boilerplate language stating how you're filing this document with the court statutorily indicates you're contesting and denying your spouse's grounds. You don't have to write anything in this segment except to indicate the numbered paragraphs in your spouse's divorce complaint to which you're responding. Include all of them to cover all your bases. For example, you'd write, "Paragraphs 1 through 15."
Use the counterclaim portion of the document if you also want to contest what your spouse has asked the court to grant her as part of the divorce. It's important to fill out the counterclaim portion even if you agree with what your spouse is asking for, but don't want the divorce. If you lose your attempt to stop the divorce based on grounds, the divorce will go forward and your counterclaim tells the court what you want from the divorce in the event that happens.
File your Answer and Counterclaim with the Court of Common Pleas in the same county where your spouse filed for divorce. You have a very limited period of time in which to do this. After 20 days, your spouse can file an additional document with the court, known as a Notice of Intention to Request Divorce Decree, so you should make your objections known before this time. When the court receives your document, it will schedule a hearing to address your dispute of the grounds.
Gather evidence to disprove your spouse's irretrievable breakdown grounds at the scheduled hearing. The requirements for this type of divorce involve a two-year separation and your spouse's assertion that your marriage can't be saved. If you haven't lived separately for the two full years, you can attempt to document this with copies of leases or utility bills in both names, or the testimony of witnesses who know you were together during that time. The judge will decide at this hearing whether to allow your divorce to proceed or dismiss your spouse's complaint.
Even if you can't prove that you and your spouse haven't lived separately for two years, the fact that you're contesting the grounds might indicate to the judge that at least one of you doesn't believe the marriage is irretrievably broken. If the judge believes there's a possibility for reconciliation, he can postpone your divorce for up to four months and order you and your spouse to attend counseling. If your spouse still insists on a divorce after this time, the judge is likely to grant it. However, if you filed a counterclaim asking for different terms than your spouse asked for, your divorce won't be final immediately. Issues of custody, property or spousal support must still be litigated at trial unless you and your spouse negotiate an agreement. If you don't file a counterclaim, the court can grant your spouse's divorce immediately after this hearing.
- WomensLaw.org: Know the Laws--Pennsylvania Divorce
- Lancaster County, PA Government Online: How to File for Divorce (PDF)
- Davis & Davis: Divorce and Separation
- Wayne County, PA: Divorce Under Section 3301(d) of the Divorce Code Instructional Checklist (PDF)
- Pennsylvania Families Association: Answer and Counterclaim (PDF)
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.