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Quick Answer:

How do you get a divorce while incarcerated in PA?

An incarcerated spouse does not change the process of a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce. That signature is required no matter how long the separation, but if your spouse is cooperative, the prison will get the divorce documents to your spouse and provide a pen, stamps, envelopes, and even a notary at no charge.

Over the years since I originated the state-wide legal practice of low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce in 1980, many prospective clients see my low fee and contact me telling me that their spouse is in prison. “Because he’s a criminal and serving time, the Court will give me my divorce, right?” Then I explain one of the main differences between a no-fault and a fault divorce. One files a fault divorce based upon the bad behavior of the other party. If one is convicted of a crime for which one could be sentenced to serve at least two years, that is grounds for a fault divorce. On the other hand, one files a no-fault divorce stating simply that the marriage is broken and cannot be saved. No reason or explanation is used in a no-fault case, even if the other party is guilty of premeditated first-degree murder. For the fault divorce, you will need a few thousand dollars, need to state your grounds in detail at Court hearing… and hope your spouse does not show up and contest. For a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce, you will simply need your spouse’s signature – no matter how bad your spouse may have been, and a couple hundred dollars.

I can understand how it may not seem fair that you need to spend a lot of money and suffer the inconvenience of lawyer visits and a hearing to try to divorce your criminal spouse, but if it were simple, people could simply state that their spouses were incarcerated whether or not it was true. Also, as I’m sure you are aware, even criminals get their day in court in the USA.

But if your incarcerated spouse is cooperative, your spouse being imprisoned does not cause any problems for a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce. Incarcerated divorcing spouses will be able to receive, sign, and return the necessary documents created by your lawyer. Facilities even provide free notary services if needed. Free postage and envelopes, too. One could argue that the process is even simpler if your incarcerated spouse is cooperative. But, for any truly low-cost divorce, no matter where your spouse may be or how long you may have been separated, low-cost divorce means your spouse must sign. That is the simple fact, no matter what you may have heard or seen elsewhere.

One more thing to consider in attempting to get the cooperation of your incarcerated spouse: Remember that incarcerated spouses have quite a bit of time on their hands in many instances. Some of them enjoy exerting whatever amount of control they can over their spouses, even if the incarcerated party actually wants the divorce too. Accordingly, pleading with your incarcerated spouse for a signature hands over control over your life. Your spouse may have no real interest in staying married to you, but may derive a sort of mean pleasure out of delaying or denying you that signature. The best attitude to convey, therefore, is that if your spouse signs, fine, but, if not, that’s fine, too. You’re apart and that is what you really want. The divorce decree will just tie off the final loose end in both of your lives.

In the past, as an additional service to a number of clients over the years, I have written incarcerated defendants long letters challenging them to do the right thing. In every instance, I must have pressed the right button because every one of them signed and did so very soon after my letter.