Davis Divorce Law is open, processing current divorces and accepting new clients. Click here to read the full statement.

Either party to a Pennsylvania divorce action can take steps to delay a no-fault divorce. If the couple has been separated less than twelve months, if either one refuses, at the end of the ninety-day waiting period to sign the Affidavit of Consent required to complete that type of divorce, it will not move forward until both sign. After twelve consecutive months of separation, however, our law says that either party can force the divorce to completion. (BUT that does not apply to a LOW-COST, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce. In THAT type of divorce, BOTH parties MUST sign no matter how long they may have been separated.) However, even in a full-price divorce through an expensive local law firm, and even after twelve months of separation, the defendant (the party being sued for divorce – the plaintiff is the party who filed the divorce) can delay the divorce by contesting.

How easy or expensive is it to contest a full-price divorce after over a year of separation? Very easy and very cheap. In such cases, after the defendant is served the divorce documents, the plaintiff’s lawyer is required by law to send the defendant two more documents by ordinary mail. One is called the Important Notice and it informs the defendant that a divorce has been filed and if contesting it is to be done, it must be contested in twenty days. The other document is called the Counter-Affidavit (which simply means “the affidavit against the divorce”). In essence, there are four statements on it, each with a box at the beginning which can be checked off. To paraphrase, the first states that the marriage is not broken, the second that the parties have not been separated over one year, the third that the defendant wants money and the fourth that the defendant wants property (real estate, personal property, money etc.) The defendant may choose any or all of them whether or not any are correct, accurate, honest or meaningful… it’s just a way to delay the divorce… maybe just to be mean, controlling or otherwise. Regardless of the defendant’s purpose in filing the Counter-Affidavit, to continue to force the divorce forward, the plaintiff’s lawyer will have to schedule a hearing in court for the issues to be decided by a judge. Setting aside courtroom time and paying the legal fees are very expensive, typically well into the thousands of dollars…and the defendant may not even bother to attend!

At that point, the plaintiff may need to delay the process until the necessary funds can be raised to continue. Some plaintiffs may be unable to ever raise the money or may decide that it is not worth it and choose to stay separated although still married.

And of course, the plaintiff may at any time and for any reason choose to proceed no further. Should that happen, the defendant can take steps to attempt to move the divorce forward. Then the plaintiff finds him or herself suddenly in the defendant’s shoes with the ability to take steps to make the divorce expensive for the defendant to move it along. Accordingly, as long as either party can afford it, a full-price (NOT a low-cost) no-fault divorce can eventually be forced through to a conclusion once the couple has been separated for over one year.

Filing the Counter-Affidavit is just one way of delaying and increasing the cost of a divorce. The defendant may hire a lawyer who could file all kinds of documents in a contest. They could have literally hundreds of pages and even require the plaintiff to spend thousands in legal fees to respond or otherwise act. Financial documents could be demanded. Meetings with the judge or court officials could be scheduled, sometimes months into the future. Contesting a divorce can easily take many, many thousands of dollars and months or even years of time and either party can do this.

Of course, in any type of divorce, low-cost or not, if the plaintiff has more important matters to which to attend, the divorce can be simply left alone with no progress to be made by either party. I have had many clients choose not to proceed at various points in the process and that is their own business, not mine. I am only the lawyer and it is not my job to press my client to proceed if, for any reason, they would rather not. I will send out a notice in such cases that if a divorce action is left unattended for over two years, the court is required by the state Supreme Court to officially terminate the action. If that happens and the plaintiff then decides to proceed, a whole new case must be undertaken. Most county courts, however, are very busy, and terminating stale actions is their lowest priority. I have had many cases still active (and not terminated) many years past the two-year deadline.

Keep in mind that, if you began a divorce, you or your spouse can act to delay it. If you filed it, you have the right to discontinue it officially on the Court record (as long as the defendant has not filed documents thereby having participated and might be prejudiced by a discontinuance) and thereby stop the process completely so neither party can act to complete it. A very common way that defendants delay divorces is by promising to cooperate but then purposely not signing the required document(s) while giving assurances that they will do so soon. When that happens, it is usually just the defendant playing games and wanting to upset you and/or exert control over your life to the extent that they can. I always advise clients not to beg their spouses to cooperate. Doing so hands your spouse control over your life. Even if you want the divorce more than anything you have ever wanted, the message to convey is that you have found a divorce service that you can afford and if your spouse signs, great, and if not, that’s okay, it is not the end of the world, I have begun my new life already without the divorce and am willing to continue it with or without a divorce decree. If you can “sell” that attitude to your spouse, you take away your spouse’s power over your life.

Of course, in many instances, one or both parties have moved on and have significant others in their lives. If your spouse knows (or simply believes) that you are champing at the bit to re-marry, then the above advice will not fly. In such cases, I have suggested staging a breakup with one’s new love interest to take that power away from one’s spouse. If a client is willing to do that, I caution the client to keep the fake breakup as “real” as possible. It is indeed a very small world and your spouse will find out if you slip up at all. You cannot entrust anyone with your secret, not even your BFF. Word will get out, either purposely or accidentally. Stay off social media and even avoid texting lest someone see your friend’s phone. Do you know how people love to take credit for gossip, good or bad? A few months apart could net you a future of many years together.

Many clients never become clients saying, “Oh, my spouse will never sign” then one day, months, or even a year or two in the future, the spouse makes contact offering full cooperation. At that point, had the person become a client and begun the divorce, we need only to act to get the defendant’s spouse’s signature, easily accomplished in a few days; however, if the client had not had the foresight to begin a divorce, it would then be much longer until the newly-filed divorce would be in the posture to collect the defendant’s signature…by which time the defendant’s mind could change! Accordingly, in such circumstances wherein you believe your spouse will not sign, file the divorce anyway then simply wait for the day to come when the defendant relents – or finds someone else to marry – and offers to sign. Does that not make eminent sense? Finally, along these lines of discussion, keep in mind that nothing else conveys to your spouse that the marriage is over like filing a divorce. Until one does that, the spouse is free to more readily harbor thoughts of getting back together.

One final point: If the court decides that either party is purposely delaying a divorce action for no good reason (acting in “bad faith”), the court may impose sanctions (such as a fine) on that party, and, if that party is the plaintiff (who filed the divorce), the judge may throw the case out of court thereby requiring one party or the other to go to the expense of re-filing.

In conclusion, either party is able to delay a divorce, sometimes at virtually no cost, sometimes the length of the delay can be measured by the depth of the party’s pocket. Clients can let emotions dictate what they want to do. Lawyers can make a lot of money off such clients and do so honestly and provide justifiable legal services in stretching out the action…when that is what the client wants the lawyer to do. Hatred can drive such clients to act that way. Personally, I find that hatred takes far too much effort to make it worthwhile. Life is short enough.

I had a client serving a life sentence for a homicide. (No, I did not represent him in criminal court.) It seemed like a slam dunk that his wife would be thrilled to end the marriage and to do so at my client’s expense. That proved not to be the case, however. She contested and drove the case well beyond my client’s financial means to continue. When asked why she wished to remain married to this convicted murderer, she answered that it was not necessarily that she wanted to stay married to him but rather that staying married was the only means she had of preventing him from marrying someone else! It really does take all kinds to make our world.