Divorce Frequently Asked Questions


How do I get legally separated in Pennsylvania?

There is no “legal separation” in Pennsylvania; rather, you are married until the divorce decree is entered.  Separation, however, is a legal concept that affects certain financial considerations of a divorce.  Generally, the date of separation will be the date you and your spouse begin living separate lives, whether or not you still physically live together.  The date of separation can have a significant impact on the distribution of assets and other considerations in a divorce.  It is important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney to learn how the date of separation is defined in your case and what specific impact it will have on you.

Will I get alimony?

In Pennsylvania, alimony is not automatic.  Rather, the judge will look at various factors to decide whether alimony is appropriate in a specific case.  Some of those factors are: the income or earning capabilities of each party, the length of the marriage and the standard of living established during the marriage.

How much does it cost to get divorced?

It depends.  The cost of a divorce depends on the cooperation of the parties, the complexity of the assets to be divided and a variety of other factors.    

How long does it take to get divorced?

It will take a minimum of 90 days from the date the complaint is served on the other party to finalize the divorce.  The law does not allow the divorce to be finalized before that 90 days expires.  However, most divorces take longer than 90 days.  It is advised that the financial settlement be worked out prior to the finalization of the divorce.  When parties are not cooperating and/or the assets are complicated or need to be valued by some other professional, the divorce proceeding can take much longer.

Can I change my name back to my maiden name?

Yes.  You can elect to resume a prior name as soon as a divorce action is filed.  There is a modest filing fee associated with this filing.

What if my spouse does not want to get divorced?

If one party does not agree to the divorce, virtually nothing will occur for one year after the date of separation.  After one year, the party seeking the divorce can request that the process be moved along through the court system, even without the consent of the other party.

 Does it matter if my spouse cheated on me?

Most Pennsylvania divorce actions are filed under the no-fault section of the statute, making adultery almost irrelevant as it relates to the division of assets.  It could be considered in determining alimony.

Will everything be divided 50/50?

Not necessarily.  Pennsylvania law requires that the marital assets be divided “equitably.”  To determine this “equitable distribution,” the court will look at a variety of factors specified in the law and make a distribution that is “fair.”


Note: These are all general answers.  In almost every case, there are specifics of a situation that will complicate the result in a divorce action.  Divorce situations are incredibly personal and individual.  It is important to have a knowledgeable attorney guide you through this process and to answer all of your divorce questions.   Contact The Law Office of Angela Flouras Rieck for your questions about divorce in Lancaster County, PA.


Divorce and Equitable Distribution

So often I hear how a particular outcome in a custody, divorce or support matter is “unfair” because my client “knows a guy” who didn’t have to give up as much or got a better custody arrangement or had a significantly different support order.  A client will often compare her situation to a relative, a friend or a co-worker and wonder why things turn out differently for her.  As attorneys, we try to give clients the best advice given the circumstances of each client’s situation, but that will not necessarily be the same as your sister, friend or coworker.  This series of blog posts will attempt to shed some light onto some of the reasons for the differing outcomes in family law cases.

Divorce and Equitable Distribution

In the process of a divorce, the division of marital property in Pennsylvania is governed by the legal concept of equitable distribution (marital property is defined generally as all property acquired during the marriage, regardless of how it is titled).  Essentially, what this means is that the division of marital property be done in a way that is fair (or equitable) to both parties.  This does not always mean a 50/50 split. In fact, the court is not permitted to start with the presumption of a 50/50 split.  Rather, the division is dependent on several factors identified by the legislature that must be considered in making an equitable distribution decision.  These factors, found in the Divorce Code, include things such as the length of the marriage, the opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income and the tax ramifications associated with the division of the assets.  There are many more factors listed by the legislature.  Not all factors identified in the Divorce Code are relevant in every divorce and in some situations some factors are given more weight than others.  Divorce attorneys are typically very familiar with these factors and use them in analyzing a likely or fair division of assets for their clients.

In the context of these factors, a couple’s situation can drastically affect the outcome of the case.  For example, the distribution of the assets in a two year marriage will likely be considerably different than in a 22 year marriage.  Similarly, a couple that is divorcing in their retirement years will likely have a much different distribution scheme than a couple in their 40s who are each working and will continue to generate income and assets.  Other situations which typically affect distribution are the existence and/or number of children of the parties, the existence of a prenuptial agreement and the work and educational history of each party. 

Simply put, family law in general – and equitable distribution in particular – is not one size fits all.  There are intricacies that play in to each and every situation.   In equitable distribution, those intricacies can make a significant difference in the division of marital assets and, as a result, a significant difference in each each party's financial status after divorce. 

No-Fault Separation Period Reduced to One Year

In 1980, the Divorce Code was amended to add no-fault divorces, allowing one spouse to obtain a divorce without the consent of the other spouse.  Initially, this no-fault divorce required a three year separation period.  In 1988, that separation period was reduced to two years.  On October 5, 2016, Governor Wolf signed Act 102 into law, reducing the waiting period to one year (effective in 60 days).  This change now allows one spouse to pursue a divorce after just one year of separation without the consent of the other spouse. 

In Pennsylvania, separation, for purposes of divorce, is defined as living separate and apart.  Section 3103 of the Divorce Code further defines “separate and apart” as the “cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not.”  Sometimes, the spouses will agree on a date of separation (for example, the date one spouse moved out of the house or moved out of the marital bedroom) but there are occasions where the parties do not agree.  In these situations, a judicial decision may be required to set the date.  The date of separation is important not just for calculating the separation period in a no-fault divorce, as described above, but also for the identification/valuation of certain marital assets.

In making a determination on a date of separation, the fact-finder (the judge or divorce master) will look at all of the circumstances of the particular situation.  Generally, the test is whether the parties are still acting or living as husband and wife.  Some factors that a fact-finder may consider are:

  1. Whether the parties eat meals together,
  2. Whether they do household chores with or for the other party (cook, clean, laundry etc);
  3. Whether they spend holidays together;
  4. How or if the finances are divided;
  5. Whether they vacation together;
  6. Whether they go out together (meals, office parties etc);
  7. How they speak about the other spouse to third parties;
  8. Whether they are in counseling or therapy together.

The analysis of these factors (and others) is sometimes complicated by the presence of children, in that the fact-finder will consider whether the spouses are acting as a cohesive unit only for the benefit of the children (i.e. if they spend holidays together only because of the children) rather than because they still identify as husband and wife.  Generally, no one factor alone is enough to definitively identify a separation date.  However, the fact-finder will look to all of the factors applicable in making a determination.  The separation date is often crucial in divorce matters and can make a significant impact in the length of the divorce process and the financial distribution of assets.