When dealing with any legal matter, be it a criminal charge, a family law case, or something else altogether, it’s normal to find yourself overwhelmed with questions about the legal process, potential outcomes, and different financial and emotional factors.
This is especially true with divorce cases, which are oftentimes emotionally charged and exceptionally complicated. There’s a whole of hosts of things to consider that can factor in to the litigation of the case, from property distribution and child custody, to mediation and discovery.
Here at JC Law, we see hundreds of divorce cases come into our firm every year, and one question we get asked by new clients more than any other is a simple (yet important) one: How long is this case going to take?
Divorce is a challenging process, and understanding the timeline for a case from A to Z can help individuals navigate their legal journey with greater clarity. Each state’s divorce process follows a specific timeline, governed by certain laws and procedures.
Today’s blog marks the second part of a three part series providing comprehensive overviews of the typical timelines for divorce cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia from the initial filing to the final resolution.
Today, we’ll cover Pennsylvania.
PLEASE NOTE: While the following provides a general overview of a standard divorce case, there are exceptions to each stage based on the specific county in Pennsylvania where the divorce is being filed. For timelines and deadlines for your specific county, please visit the pacourts.gov page on divorce proceedings to access any county specific forms.
1. Filing the Complaint (1-2 months):
The divorce process typically begins with one party filing a Complaint in the county where either spouse resides. In Pennsylvania, there are both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce. If the divorce is based on mutual consent (no-fault), the parties may have already been living separately for at least 90 days before filing the Complaint. If it’s a fault-based divorce, the grounds may include adultery, abandonment, or cruel and barbarous treatment.
2. Service of Complaint (2-4 weeks):
Once the Complaint is filed, the other party must be served with a copy of the Complaint and a Notice to Defend. This can be done through personal service or by certified mail. The served party then has 20 days to respond to the Complaint.
3. Response and Counterclaim (20 days):
The served party can respond to the Complaint by filing an Answer within 20 days. If the responding party wishes to contest any issues, they may also file a Counterclaim outlining their requests and grievances.
4. Discovery (2-6 months):
Discovery is the process through which both parties gather and exchange information relevant to the case. This can include financial documents, interrogatories, and depositions. The duration of discovery depends on the complexity of the case and the level of cooperation between the parties.
5. Negotiation and Settlement (2-6 months):
Many divorce cases in Pennsylvania are resolved through negotiation and settlement. The parties, along with their attorneys, may engage in mediation or collaborative law to reach agreements on issues such as property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support.
6. Court Hearings (3-6 months):
If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the case may proceed to court. The court will schedule hearings to address contested issues, and both parties will have the opportunity to present their arguments and evidence. The court will then make decisions based on Pennsylvania’s divorce laws and guidelines.
7. Decree of Divorce (1-2 months):
Once all issues are resolved, either through settlement or court decisions, the court will issue a Decree of Divorce. This legal document officially terminates the marriage. The waiting period for the issuance of the decree varies but is typically 1-2 months.
While this timeline provides a general overview of the divorce process in Pennsylvania, it’s important to note that each case is unique, and timelines can vary based on factors such as the complexity of the issues, the level of cooperation between the parties, and the court’s schedule. Consulting with a qualified family law attorney is crucial to navigate the specific details of your case and ensure a smoother transition through this challenging period.