Self-Help Divorce Manual
This manual is only a guide. It is not to be used as a substitute for legal advice. It is not designed for people with complicated divorce issues. Appendix A contains definitions of terms you will see in this manual and Appendix B contains relevant provisions of Pennsylvania divorce law. This manual was last updated in December 2016.
Marriage is the legal recognition of the union of two persons and is a legal contract between those two persons. Likewise, divorce is the legal and formal way to break this union. It is final. So you should get a divorce only if you are certain you want to end this marriage.
Can this manual help me file for divorce?
This manual can help you if you:
Are a pro se litigant (someone acting as his/her own lawyer)
Want a no-fault divorce
Want to file in Philadelphia County
This manual has been prepared for "pro se" litigants seeking a no-fault divorce in Philadelphia County who cannot afford a lawyer. A pro se litigant is a person who files a legal action in the court system without the help of a lawyer. You can seek a divorce in Philadelphia County if you or your spouse has lived in Pennsylvania for the last six months and preferably one of you is currently residing in Philadelphia. For more information about the divorce process in Pennsylvania, visit www.palawhelp.org.
This manual was not designed for complicated divorce issues. To deal with these matters, you would need additional forms that are not included in this manual and you will need to hire a lawyer.
Here are some examples of complicated divorce issues that people might have:
Dividing up marital property (assets and debts)
Marital property includes almost everything that either one of you acquired between the date of your marriage and the date of your final separation, regardless of whose name is on the title, such as a house, cars, bank accounts, furniture, pension, stocks and bonds, debts, etc., as well as any increase in value of property that either of you owned before the marriage. The Divorce Code (the divorce law in Pennsylvania) sets up a way to divide the marital property between you and your spouse.
WARNING: You can lose your right to a share of the marital property if you fail to divide these assets and debts before you get divorced.
Alimony, if you want support from your spouse after you get divorced
"Fault" grounds for divorce (such as adultery or desertion) if you don't meet the requirements for a no-fault divorce (see below)
Marriage of less than 10 years, unless you are willing to lose the right to claim social security benefits based on your spouse's work history
Unknown location of your spouse
Spouse is in the armed forces (unless s/he will consent to the divorce)
Common law marriage, if one party disputes that the marriage was ever created
In addition, this manual will not help you if you want to file for divorce in a different county, because you will need different forms. To get help with a divorce in another county, please contact the Lawyer Referral and Information Service in your county. To find the phone number for the Lawyer Referral Service near you, you can check in the telephone book, call information, or call the local county bar association.
If a divorce action has already been filed in another county or state, you are not allowed to file in Philadelphia County unless or until that action has been withdrawn. One of the requirements for filing in Philadelphia County is that no divorce has been filed anywhere else (see paragraph 6 of the sample Complaint on page 13).
What should I do if I fit into one of these categories and this manual can't help me?
If you fall into one of these categories and need help finding a lawyer, please contact the Philadelphia Bar Association's Lawyer Referral and Information Service:
One Reading Center
1101 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
You may also be eligible for free legal advice through Philadelphia Legal Assistance by calling them at 215-981-3800. For more information, visit www.philalegal.org.
What types of divorce are discussed in this manual?
This manual deals only with "no-fault" divorce, in which one spouse (the wife or husband) seeks a divorce without having to prove that the other spouse was "at fault" for the breakdown of the marriage. There are two kinds of no-fault divorce:
Mutual Consent Divorce: Also called a "c" divorce because it is found in Section 3301(c) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code. This kind of divorce is used when both parties will consent to the divorce.
Separation Divorce: Also called a "d" divorce because it is found in Section 3301(d) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code. This kind of divorce is specifically for people whose spouses WON’T agree (i.e., won’t sign a consent) and who have been living separate and apart continuously for at least one or two years depending on the date of separation as described in the note below.
Note: Effective December 5, 2016 the law was changed to allow a divorce after living separate and apart for a continuous period of one year instead of two. Whether you may file based on a one year separation depends on when your separation began:
- Any married person who started living separate and apart from his or her spouse after December 5, 2016 may begin a divorce action based on a one-year separation. However, the divorce cannot be finalized until at least one full year has passed from the date of separation.
- Anyone whose separation began on or before December 5, 2016 may only get a divorce after a separation of two years. When completing the forms in this manual, you must make sure you refer to the right time period based on the date when the separation started.
If you are certain that your spouse will consent to the divorce, then fill out only the forms for the Mutual Consent Divorce. If you are certain your spouse will not consent, then fill out only the forms for the Two-Year Separation Divorce. If you are not sure whether your spouse will consent, see below for how you can pursue both forms of divorce.
How can I get a Mutual Consent Divorce?
To get a divorce by mutual consent, you and your spouse (your husband or wife) must formally agree to the divorce. One person, referred to as the Plaintiff, files a Complaint in Divorce against his/her spouse, the Defendant. But both parties (that is, both the Plaintiff and the Defendant) must sign and file Affidavits of Consent (these are legal documents in which you say that you agree to the divorce).
How can I get a Separation Divorce?
To get a separation divorce, you and your spouse (your husband or wife) must have lived separate and apart continuously for at least one or two years (see above Note). This type of divorce would be used if your spouse will not sign an Affidavit of Consent and you have lived apart continuously for at least the required number of years. (If your spouse raises a claim for economic relief, such as property distribution, alimony, etc., you will need to consult a lawyer.) Note: If you and your spouse have been separated for at least the required number of years or longer but your spouse will now agree to sign a consent, it is possible to proceed with a "c" divorce if you have made a claim for both a "c" and a "d" divorce in your Divorce Complaint. See next paragraph.
What if I am not sure my spouse will consent?
The forms in Part II (Mutual Consent Divorces) include a claim for both a mutual consent or "c" divorce and a two-year separation or "d" divorce. You may want to make both claims in case your spouse refuses to give his or her consent. You can claim a two-year separation before you have been separated for two years, but you will have to wait for two years to pass before you can proceed with that claim. See Part III for additional forms and instructions regarding Two-Year Separation Divorces.
If I was "common law married" before January 1, 2005, do I have to file papers to get a divorce?
Yes. If you were in a common law marriage before January 1, 2005, the date common law marriage was abolished, you must file for divorce with the court to end your marriage. Even if you had a valid common law marriage, there is no such thing as a common law divorce. See Appendix A for definition of "common law marriage."
Where can I find the information that I need in this manual?
Part I of the manual is an introduction.
Part II covers mutual consent divorce. It discusses the forms you need to file for a no-fault divorce by mutual consent and gives the directions for filling them out. The directions are illustrated by sample forms already filled out with fake names. You can use the samples as models to help you fill out the blank forms (located in the Appendices) with your personal information.
Remember: if you want a mutual consent divorce, fill in only the mutual consent forms.
Part III covers "separation" divorce. It discusses the forms you need to file for a no-fault divorce based on a one or two-year (or more) separation. The directions are illustrated by sample forms already filled out with fake names. You can use the samples as models to help you fill out the blank forms (located in the Appendices) with your personal information.
Remember: if you want a "separation" divorce, fill in only the "separation" forms.
The Appendix has definitions of legal words, relevant statutes, and various forms you will need.
Appendix A is the glossary, which you can use to find the definition or meaning of some legal words used in this manual.
Appendix B has relevant provisions of Pennsylvania divorce law.
Appendix C has blank copies of the forms for "c" or "mutual consent" divorces.
Appendix D has blank copies of the forms for "d" or "separation" divorces.
Where can I get more information about filing for divorce in Philadelphia if I need it?
You can contact the Office of the Clerk of Court, Domestic Relations Division of the Family Court, which is part of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, if you have specific questions about the divorce procedures. This is a source for information about what, how and where to file – not for legal advice. No one in the clerk's office will answer legal questions. The Clerk's office is located at 1501 Arch Street on the 11th Floor. The phone number is 215-686-3805. Their website is courts.phila.gov/common-pleas/family/.