As of 2005, Pennsylvania law allows married couples to file a no-fault divorce with mutual consent, which means the marriage ends for no other reason than the fact that both people involved want it to end. There are other ways to end a divorce with no fault involved, such as being legally separated for two years or more, but then there's the old fashioned way: finding fault on the part of one or both sides and filing divorce on those grounds.
Pennsylvania law only accepts certain specific reasons for filing a fault-based divorce:
- Desertion for 12 months or more
- Indignities (one spouse makes the other's life unbearable)
- Cruel and barbarous treatment, including all forms of domestic abuse
- Incarceration for 24 months or more
However, even if one or more of these situations is true, you may not want or need to file for a fault-based divorce. Under Pennsylvania law, the fault or lack thereof behind a divorce doesn't affect the property distribution afterwards. A hard legal battle over custody and property can follow a no-fault divorce, and a marriage ended by adultery can divide ownership quickly and quietly. The vast majority of Pennsylvanian divorces are no-fault divorces because of this. So what's the point of filing a fault-based divorce?
- It can end a marriage faster. No-fault divorces only go quickly when both spouses are willing to sign the papers. If one spouse refuses, the couple has to live legally separated for two years and then prove to a court that their marriage is "irretrievably broken." But sometimes marriages need to end faster than that. It can be something like domestic abuse where one spouse needs end the relationship as fast as possible, or there could be issues with business ownership or inheritance.
- Alimony. Alimony is a part of no-fault divorces as well, but the size of the payments and whether a spouse gets any at all can be affected by who's responsible for a fault-based divorce. For instance, Pennsylvania law states that a spouse who commits adultery is not entitled to alimony payments, at least so long as the spouse making the payments didn't also commit adultery. You can still prove adultery during a no-fault divorce, but a fault-based divorce lets you establish the fact of it right at the beginning.
Divorce can be short and sweet, painful and long, and anywhere in between. A no-fault divorce is easier to arrange, and most Pennsylvanian couples prefer it, but a fault-based divorce can sometimes be worth the pain of proving fault in a court of law.