Legal Toolkit Pennsylvania Family Law and Divorce

What to Know About Family Law and Divorce


Divorce is never easy. It is less financially painful when spouses put aside their anger at the situations that led them to this point, act as rationally as possible, and resolve issues quickly. If you've decided that it's best to start a new life, spending time fighting about every specific wrong will prolong your pain (and that of any children) and put further strain on your wallet.  In most instances, no matter how cost-efficient the divorce, the standard of living for the respective households, from an economic standpoint, will go down. As you proceed, try to make wise financial decisions for the benefit of all, coming to agreement quickly, and having the most money left in the end as possible. Most divorce cases don’t actually go to trial and the judges' preferred way of resolving a case is the proposal of a legally sound plan to which both parties can agree. The more quickly and efficiently you can get to that agreed plan, the better for all involved.


The legal route you choose to end your marriage can make a difference about how expensive, time-consuming, private, and adversarial the process will be. The best method for you and your spouse will depend on a number of factors, including the complexity of your marriage and possessions, the existence of children, and the state of your relationship as a soon-to-be-ex-couple. Pennsylvania maintains both fault-based and no-fault divorce systems. Mediation and collaborative law can also be used to settle the issues of a divorce. See the “Legal Glossary” for definitions of these phrases and be sure to discuss all options with a family law attorney.


Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state meaning that the court will look to all circumstances to determine a division of the property and debts that is fair and equitable to both parties. Spouses in difficult divorce cases have been known to "hide" assets until after a divorce is final to lessen their financial liability. Because of this, you should consider gathering copies of important financial statements and storing them outside the home before you file for divorce. See “What to Bring” for details.


Prenuptial agreements (also known as ante-nuptial agreements) are becoming more common, especially as couples are marrying later in life or as second, third, or fourth marriages become more common. Even with young, never before married couples, one or both of the parties may have accumulated significant assets prior to the intended marriage that they want to protect for themselves in the event of divorce. Both parties should have their own legal representative review the prenuptial agreement before they sign it.