There are circumstances wherein you can get a divorce in Pennsylvania without your spouse’s signature. The major problem with such divorces is that they are quite the opposite of “low-cost”. Let’s consider the “no spouse’s signature” divorce options. Here they are in no particular order:
First, a fault (as opposed to no-fault) divorce, contested or uncontested. As you might suspect, the UNcontested fault divorce is by far the less expensive and less time-consuming of the two. That said, an uncontested fault divorce is never low-cost. All fault divorces, uncontested or contested, require a hearing. It would be a brief and simple hearing, but it requires Court time and using a Court office, a Divorce Master, and a qualified court stenographer. All of that adds up to $500 to $1000 or more…plus your lawyer. (Always remember that you can try it without a lawyer, but if you make the slightest error, the divorce will come to a screeching halt and the Court staff is not permitted to help and the hundreds you spent on filing and scheduling the hearing will not be refunded.)
So, once you pay your lawyer and the Court costs and have your hearing, your divorce will be granted… as long as your spouse doesn’t decide to show up and say it is contested. Oh, yes, your spouse would be notified of the time and place of the hearing, but if your spouse is a no-show, that type of divorce goes through without your spouse signing anything. (Also, incarcerated spouses get a “Get out of jail free” card for the day and free transportation to the hearing.)
If your spouse does choose to contest, then your hearing would be considerably longer and more involved with witnesses, testimony, evidence… the whole nine yards. The legal fees and Court costs would increase at least ten times and with no guarantee of success, but if the Court decided in your favor, that divorce would be granted without your spouse signing. Keep in mind that either of you could appeal the Judge’s decision. That would add another 12 to 24 months to the process.
That was fault divorce. Now we will discuss NO-fault divorce without your spouse signing. First, you would have to be living separately and apart for every day of at least the last 12 months. (That used to be 36, then 24 but it has been 12 since the end of 2016.) If you are not separated (or not long enough), your spouse must sign… period. That is Pennsylvania law.
Assuming that the two of you have been residing under separate roofs for every day of the last twelve months, a NO-fault divorce without your spouse’s signature can happen; however, it will not be low-cost. For it to happen, it must be filed in your own county (which can have court filing fees as high as $350 to $400) plus the fees of a local, full-service law firm. (OK, OK, you can try it without a lawyer, but remember what I said above about what you will face if you make a mistake: The Court clerks are not permitted to help you.) A typical retainer for such a divorce action is $2500 to $3500. Let’s assume that you come up with that money and proceed. The divorce gets filed and your spouse is served papers (usually by a sheriff’s deputy or a constable even though our Rules of Court say any unrelated adult may serve divorce papers… what can I say? Even lawyers often cannot think outside the box). After service of the documents, your spouse must be mailed two documents. One tells your spouse a divorce action was filed, and action to contest must be taken in 20 days. The other is an Affidavit with four sentences on it and a box that can be checked in front of each sentence:
1. The marriage isn’t broken.
2. We have not been separated that long.
3. I want money.
4. I want things.
If your spouse checks even just one box and sends it to the Court, your case is contested and stops dead. The next step is in-court proceedings over what your spouse checked off. Just to schedule such a hearing will be thousands in legal fees and Court costs. But, if your spouse fails to show up or if you win at the hearing, your divorce would be granted without your spouse signing anything. You’ll be broke and likely owe people for the money you borrowed to fight the contest, but you will be single.
Our law states that once you are separated for over one year, your spouse cannot stop the divorce. Our law does not tell you just how expensive your spouse can make it for you… while your spouse spends next to nothing to do so. Yes, I know it is not fair, but it is a fact nonetheless.