How long a simple, low-cost, uncontested, no-fault divorce may take in Pennsylvania depends upon many things. I have had many clients, for reasons known only to themselves, stretch the process out many, many months longer than it could have taken to finish. On the other hand, I had one client – that I know of as I do not routinely check the length of cases – get divorced in just four days! Wow! For that to happen he spent a lot of money to rush the steps, to me from him, from me to him, from him to his spouse, from his spouse to him, from me to the Court and from the Court to me. That was expensive! Understand that just one Priority Mail Express stamp (it used to be called Express Mail) costs around $28.00! Perhaps the most amazing part of that four-day case was the fact that the Judge signed the final decree immediately. Almost all the time, it takes the Judge one to three, sometimes four, weeks just to plow through all of the decrees waiting in line on his desk for his signature.
The one thing that has the biggest influence on the length of time for a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce is how long the parties have been living under separate roofs at the time of the filing of the divorce in Court. Note that I said living under separate roofs, not on different floors, not in separate bedrooms and certainly not in separate beds. The are plenty of married couples sleeping separately who will tell you that is the secret to their happy marriages. Getting back to the point, couples living under separate roofs for every day of the twelve months preceding the filing of the divorce do not have to have the otherwise required 90-day waiting period. Yes, if you are not separated long enough, the divorce must be prepared, signed, filed in Court and the defendant spouse must receive a copy of the filed divorce for the 90-day wait to begin. (And note that it is a waiting period, NOT a separation period, so the parties may spend any portion of the 90 days together, which sometimes is economically easier.) After that wait ends, the parties must sign a document consenting to the divorce. Then, additional documents must be prepared and sent to Court requesting that the Judge grant the divorce. After the Judge gets to the case and grants the divorce (three to four or five weeks later, you should recall), the documents are returned to the clerk’s (Prothonotary’s) office for entry into the records. Only then are the decrees sent out to the parties. A party represented by a lawyer (like my clients) has his/her decree sent to the lawyer and the lawyer sends it on to the client. The other party’s decree is sent directly to that party as that party typically does not have (or need) a lawyer.
All any attorney controls in terms of how long a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce may take is what goes on in the attorney’s office. The lawyer has no control over the parties, the Court or the mail. By the way, this is the perfect time to mention why the mail must be used instead of emails, FAX documents or any other electronic communication: Our law still requires original, not copied or electronic, signatures on divorce paperwork. Most of my clients come to me to save money on their divorces and they, therefore, choose my Basic Advertised Service. I have been handling low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorces since Pennsylvania enacted no-fault divorce in 1980. Accordingly, I have a very good handle on how long they take, on average, in real life: five to six months, including the 90-day wait. If the couple qualifies for and elects to proceed based upon the one-year separation described above, the length of time is reduced by most of that 90 days, but not all of it as a roughly three-week wait may occur. In those cases, three to four months is a realistic length of time. Remember that those lengths of time are average and based upon real cases and real people. If the parties, at the different steps in the process, act without delay, they can shorten the total time considerably.
I also offer services wherein I shorten the time the various steps may take in my office. These additional services result in shortening the time the case takes before it is prepared, before it is signed by the client and before it is filed in Court and before and/or after the 90 days as well as how quickly the decree is sent out after I receive it from Court. Once again, I have control only over what takes place in my office.
Be wary of lawyers promising how long your divorce will take. Some do that just to get the fees and then cannot deliver within the promised time…and they knew they could not from the start. They, after all, do not expect “return customers” for a future divorce. I, on the other hand, since 1980, have had literally hundreds of clients retain me for subsequent divorce cases. Indeed, my largest source of business is new clients referred to me by satisfied former clients who found that they were treated fairly and respectfully.