Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

At one time, grounds for Divorce were very important – unless you had good reasons for ending your marriage, you were not always able to obtain a divorce.

Pennsylvania’s Divorce Law has a long history. Originally, a Divorce could be obtained only on fault grounds. In general, this meant that a person had to prove that their spouse was at fault, and he or she was “the injured and innocent spouse.” In theory, this meant that if both parties were at fault, they were forced to stay married. The particular fault grounds were:

1. Desertion, for a period of one or more years;
2. Adultery;
3. By cruel and barbarous treatment, endangered the life or health of the injured and innocent spouse;
4. Bigamy;
5. Been sentenced to imprisonment for two or more years; or
6. Offered such indignities to the innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome.

The last of these grounds was the most popular, being the broadest, and easiest to prove – particularly when the case was uncontested.

A rarely used provision allowed for divorce upon grounds of insanity, with confinement to a mental institution for at least 18 months, and no reasonable prospect that the spouse will be discharged.

In 1980, Pennsylvania added two no fault grounds to the Divorce Code. A divorce can be granted based on mutual consent. This requires that both spouses sign an affidavit, with a 90 day waiting period following the filing of a Divorce Complaint.

A second no-fault provision allows for a divorce based on an allegation that the parties have been separated for two years, and that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

Although the fault grounds are still a part of our law, they are rarely used – most parties prefer no to air their dirty laundry in public. If a divorce is contested, it is usually because the parties are arguing about economic issues such as alimony or distribution of property.

The Divorce Code does allow the Court to Order the parties to attend marriage counseling. The Court would require the parties to attend up to three counseling session. Following the sessions, a report is made indicating only whether the parties did, or did not attend. The counselor doesn’t decide whether the divorce should be granted, and neither party is required to reconcile if they don’t want to.


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