The no-fault divorce process
Ending a marriage can be a confusing and emotionally wrenching process, involving many difficult decisions. Most divorces are "no-fault" divorces, meaning the grounds are irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. You do not need a reason to get divorced under the "no-fault" statute. The alternative to "no-fault" divorce is to claim fault grounds, such as adultery, cruel and inhuman treatment, personal indignities, or other fault-based grounds that must be proven in court. Fault grounds can be costly and frequently difficult to prove. More importantly, the process of gathering and submitting proof can often be embarrassing and painful - especially for any children of the parties.
What is a no-fault divorce?
No-fault divorce is easier to obtain, less costly, and much quicker than in a "fault divorce." A court grants a no-fault divorce when both parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
In Pennsylvania, for example, there are 2 kinds of no-fault divorce:
If both parties agree to the divorce, they can obtain a no-fault divorce by consent. One party files for the divorce and, after 90 days has passed from when the complaint is served on the other spouse, each party may file a form called an Affidavit of Consent. You may resolve any other issues you have by agreeing on how you will deal with marital property and/or debt in a Property Settlement Agreement. The court rules require you to file a series of legal documents to complete the divorce. This is the fastest way to divorce in Pennsylvania, but it requires the cooperation of both parties.
Unilateral no-fault divorce is available if one of the spouses will not consent to the divorce but the parties have been living separate and apart (defined by the statute as "complete cessation of any and all cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not") for at least 2 years and the marriage is irretrievably broken. You may file for the divorce before you have lived separate and apart for the 2-year waiting period, but you cannot get the divorce until the 2-year period is over. There may be disagreement between you and your spouse about when you separated, which would require a court hearing to determine the separation date. Also, you may not be able to obtain a unilateral divorce if there are outstanding issues related to property division or support. You usually must resolve these issues before a divorce will be granted by the court.
While a no-fault divorce is granted on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, it does not resolve other issues that often are involved in a divorce such as support, alimony, child custody, and property division. These issues may still need to be resolved, either by agreement of the parties or by order of the court after a trial.
Seeking a no-fault divorce saves the ordeal and costs associated with proving one party's wrongdoing. However, no-fault divorce should not be confused with uncontested divorce. Even a generally amicable divorce often involves some contested issues, and you should contact an experienced lawyer to protect your rights and interests.
Both parties' agreement to get a divorce is not sufficient to achieve a settlement. The desire to "get it over with" is common, but the reality is that all marital issues must be resolved for the courts to grant a divorce. The real challenges are in resolving major marital issues such as: child custody/visitation, child support (if any minor children are involved), alimony/spousal support (if sought by either party), and property division, covering all marital assets and debts.
In Pennsylvania divorce cases where a no-fault uncontested divorce is appropriate, the divorce can often be completed in about 90 days for a flat fee.