How Does a Divorce Get Started?
If you are contemplating divorce, you may wonder how you can begin the process. The Pennsylvania court system has good information on divorce proceedings that you should review prior to any action. Depending on your circumstances, you might want to take steps to guard against:
- Physical danger to yourself and your children — If there is a history of abuse in the home, serving your spouse with divorce papers can trigger an irrational and possibly violent response. You must take steps to ensure your safety before you begin the formal divorce process.
- Parental kidnapping — Is there a danger that your spouse might take extreme and illegal steps to deny you access to your children? If your spouse is a foreign national, the potential removal of your children from the country poses a particular danger. There are steps you can take, such as securing your children’s passports, to minimize this risk.
- Hidden assets — If your spouse controls most of your marital assets, you must guard against fraudulent transfers designed to place assets outside the court’s reach. It’s often necessary to do a little detective work and secure copies of financial documents before you let your spouse know you are contemplating divorce.
- Embarrassing your spouse — If you blindside your spouse, especially publicly, with divorce papers, you can expect an emotional backlash that will undermine your attempts to resolve the divorce quickly and amicably.
When you speak to an experienced attorney prior to taking action, you can express your concerns freely and receive reliable counsel on the best strategies for proceeding. In most cases, the early stages of the process are straightforward:
- Eligibility — At least one of the spouses must be a resident of Pennsylvania, residing in the commonwealth for at least six months.
- Filing — The petitioner files for divorce in the court of the county where the responding spouse lives or the petitioner’s county if the responding spouse lives out of state. The petitioner must arrange for the responding spouse to be served with a summons and complaint within 30 days. There are filing fees.
- Answering — The respondent is not required to answer, but answering preserves the right to contest the petitioner’s request of the court with regard to alimony, child support, child custody and property division. The time period for answering is found in the summons and is usually about 30 days.
Speaking with an attorney prior to filing can also help you prepare for an uncontested divorce or collaborative divorce. These processes require a high level of cooperation between the divorcing spouses, but can save time, money and frustration. Your attorney can help you determine whether you are a candidate for these methods and advise you on how to best broach the subject to your spouse. In such cases, spouses often start negotiating a marital settlement agreement before filing for divorce.
The Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney & Associates, P.C. handles all aspects of divorce in Pennsylvania. We serve clients throughout Bucks County, including Newtown, Washington Crossing, and Richboro. Call us at 215.493.3360 or contact our Yardley office online to schedule a consultation.