Technically, the law prohibits “multiplicity of litigation”. Simply put, that means there ought to be only one legal action filed regarding the same issue or problem, such as a divorce. Accordingly, the person who files the divorce first controls the divorce process because if the other spouse files later, the spouse who filed first can have the second divorce dismissed (knocked out of court). As one might imagine, this would be where the two spouses are not communicating or are angry and want to fight the divorce tooth and nail to the bitter end.
All that said, it is a fact that if a spouse files first and then the other files, the first spouse can tell the other to just go ahead with the second divorce. This happens frequently when the first spouse finds that the divorce is costing more than anticipated, so it is fine to let the other spouse spend money to complete the second divorce. The Court really will not care. I have had many clients come to me to file a simple, low-cost, uncontested, no-fault divorce even though the other spouse already filed. This happens when the other spouse decides not to spend any more money on that first divorce… or even will not pay legal fees already due. As long as both parties agree to cooperate in the second divorce (the one I will file), the second divorce may proceed. I have even had clients who had already filed (through a conventional full-service, full-price law firm) deciding they made an expensive mistake by not coming to me in the first place to file a simple, low-cost, uncontested, no-fault divorce. I can handle that situation as well.
In other words, it can matter who files first if you have a divorce in which you and your spouse cannot settle or agree, especially if you each reside in different states or even in different counties in the same state (in which case the person filing first can likely keep the divorce action in that party’s “home” court and force the other party to considerable inconvenience and expense in dealing with a court that requires travel and hiring a lawyer some distance away).
However, if your divorce is more typical and the two of you are being sensible and not acting in anger or revenge, then in a simple, low-cost, uncontested, no-fault Pennsylvania divorce, it does not matter which of you files. Only one of you will need a lawyer like me, and there will be no travel to my office nor appearance in Court for either of you and no one will be blamed. The divorce will simply state that the marriage is permanently broken and it will not say who broke it, how or when.