In Pennsylvania, same-sex marriages had been banned by statute since 1996. For years there have been several unsuccessful attempts to legalize them. However, only on May 20, 2014, the ban was recognized unconstitutional. The ruling allowed the couples to apply for a marriage license the same day. Consequently, all judges have to legally recognize a same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania and grant any gay divorce under the same conditions as the heterosexual one.
Same-sex divorce online
A do-it-yourself divorce has become a rather popular solution to end a marriage without a lawyer. However, the option of divorce over the Internet is accessible under some conditions. First, one or both spouses must meet the residency requirements. Same-sex spouses have to file for divorce in Pennsylvania in a county where one of them resided for six months. Second, only couples with an uncontested divorce can use these online services.
Once both requirements are met, a person married to a same-sex partner can get a divorce in Pennsylvania with the help of online services. As a rule, they help their clients to prepare for their case and send them necessary printable documents to file with the court. Such services are usually more affordable compared to a lawyer’s hourly fees. For example, pennsylvaniaonlinedivorce.com charges only $139 for their help.
It is challenging to prepare same-sex divorce paperwork in Pennsylvania by yourself since many difficulties can arise when collecting documentation. Going online and trusting this task to professionals is a quick and easy solution that eliminates all risks of making a mistake.
Same-sex divorce papers in Pennsylvania
A divorce process in Pennsylvania for same-sex marriages is the same for gay and heterosexual couples. When one of the spouses decides to end his or her marriage, his first step is to prepare same-sex divorce papers and file them the local court in Pennsylvania. Couples who entered a common-law marriage before January 2, 2005, also have to follow the same filing procedure.
Same-sex divorce forms in Pennsylvania can be obtained with the help of a lawyer or online. The latter would be much cheaper, especially if the case is uncontested. However, the more information you can get on how to file same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania, the better. Thorough research beforehand will help you in the future.
Valid grounds for same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania
The married couple can file for divorce in Pennsylvania if they provide a specific cause for the same-sex marriage dissolution. Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, so there is no need to provide the guilt of the other party in court. Generally, there are two such options:
The marriage is irretrievably broken. Pennsylvania law requires that the spouses have lived separately for one year before an action.
Mutual consent of the parties. A final decree, in this case, can be obtained only after the waiting period of 90 days.
Also, one of the spouses can get a same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania based on the other party’s misdeed. A plaintiff — a spouse filing for divorce — has to provide one of the fault-based grounds (Pennsylvania Statutes, § 3301):
- Willful desertion for more than one year;
- Cruel treatment that endangered life and health of another spouse;
- Imprisonment for two or more years;
- The other spouse entered a bigamous marriage;
- The defendant created “intolerable and life burdensome” conditions to the other spouse;
- Insanity with confinement in a mental institution for 18 months before action.
Custody of the Child
In Pennsylvania, family law matters that involve minor children are considered with great consideration. Both parents, adoptive or natural, have the same rights to be awarded custody, and no party will be given preference based on gender or sexual orientation. Child custody can be legal or physical, either shared, partial, or sole. When awarding child custody and determining its type, a judge usually contemplates several important factors (Pennsylvania Statutes, § 5328):
- which of the parents will more likely permit frequent contact with another one;
- a child’s relationship with siblings;
- whether one of the parents was charged with child abuse or domestic violence;
- a child’s relationship with each parent;
- the need for stability in the life and education of a child;
- preferences of a child;
- physical and mental conditions of parents;
- other relevant factors.
By the court order, both parties can be referred to attend a parenting class or counseling sessions. The courses provide parents training to help ensure their children with appropriate support and help them cope with changing circumstances.
Child support is determined according to statewide guidelines approved by the Supreme Court and based on the child’s needs and the capacity of the obligor to pay it. Both parents have to support their child until he or she reaches the age of majority (18 years) or is emancipated (Pennsylvania Statutes, § 4322).
Pennsylvania uses the Shares Income Model to calculate the amount of the payments. The formula is based on the combined net income of both parents and the number of children. Each of the parents then has to pay their share according to their individual income. A support order also includes the medical expenses for the child. A judge can deviate from the guidelines in case of some unusual needs of the child.
In a marriage dissolution proceeding, a judge will decide if there is a need for alimony — is a sum of money that one spouse pays to another to support them financially. The payments can be awarded for definite or an indefinite period. In order to determine the type, duration, and amount of payments, a court will consider the following factors (Pennsylvania Statutes, § 3701):
- the relative earning capacities of the parties;
- age, health, and emotional conditions;
- the sources of income, including medical and insurance benefits;
- the length of marriage;
- the contribution of one party to the education or training of another;
- standard of living in the marriage;
- relative assets, liabilities, and inheritances of the parties;
- marital misconduct;
- property that each spouse brought to the marriage;
- other relevant factors.
If the circumstances of one of the spouses have significantly changed, he or she may apply for a modification of the current alimony order, but only providing required financial information proving the said change. The payments are terminated when a receiving spouse remarries or dies (unless the court order or an agreement between the parties had specific terms indicating otherwise).
Divorce laws in Pennsylvania regarding the distribution of property are the same for same-sex unions and heterosexual ones. Only marital property is subject to division. It includes everything that was acquired during the marriage or the increase of the value of the separate property. How is property divided in Pennsylvania? After considering all circumstances, a judge will divide assets and debts “equitably,” which does not mean that it will be exactly in half. The relevant factors that affect the distribution are as follows (Pennsylvania Statutes, §3502):
- the duration of the marriage;
- age, health, employment skills, needs of each spouse;
- prior marriages;
- contribution by one party to the education of another;
- the current and future sources of income;
- the improvement or dissipation of property;
- the standard of living during the marriage;
- whether one of the spouses will be a custodial parent;
- other factors.
If there is a prenuptial agreement, the property will be divided according to its terms. In especially complicated cases with a high value of assets, it is better to hire an attorney specializing in these issues.
A judge may refer the couple for the mediation program before the court hearing. It usually concerns child custody but can also include issues of property division, alimony, and support. Through the process of mediation, spouses are encouraged to resolve their disputes in an amicable negotiation.
Mediation is facilitated by a third party — a mediator whose aim is to help the parties come to mutual decisions on their own. He or she cannot give legal advice or tell the spouses what they should or should not do. Mediation is confidential and less inexpensive compared to litigation. If negotiation is successful, a couple can avoid divorce trial, making the whole case much easier and faster.
Filing fees for same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania
A gay couple can file for same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania if one of the spouses meets the state’s residency requirements. Any divorce proceeding starts from submitting a package of documents with the court. The filing of documents comes with a price, which varies depending on the circumstances of each case and local rules of different areas.
Contested cases are usually more expensive than uncontested. Couples with children will also have to pay more than couples who do not have children. For example, a complaint for divorce in Dauphin County is $337. If there are children, a custody complaint will cost an additional $360. More specific information about the fees for each county can be found at the corresponding clerk’s office or online.
How long it will take
Divorce for same-sex couples in Pennsylvania can take from 3 months to several years, depending on the complexity of the case. Contested cases involving minor children cannot be resolved fast. For uncontested cases, a minimum waiting period is 90 days. If one of the spouses wants to end the marriage on fault-based grounds, he or she must comply with a one-year separation period.
The question of how to serve the papers on the other party also affects the length of divorce process. Serving can be performed either by a sheriff or a third party whose interests are involved in the case. A person married to a same-sex partner can get a divorce in Pennsylvania if the spouse is out of state. However, the out-of-state spouse has to be located first.