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Military Divorce in Pennsylvania


In our nation’s military and looking to get a Pennsylvania divorce? There seem to be quite a few misconceptions about this. Let me see if I can be helpful about this issue. 

If you have really been paying close attention (or if someone told or warned you about it), you may have heard something about the Soldiers and Sailors Military Relief Act, a federal law passed at the time of the Second World War. Its main purpose was to protect deployed service personnel from the result of lawsuits which would have been difficult or impossible to defend because of deployment geographically far from the court where the legal action had been filed. No, it was not the government’s intention that service personnel could never be found liable or escape responsibility for a serious issue actionable in our courts of law, such as, for example, rear ending someone’s car then being shipped off to fight in France. Rather its purpose was to protect the rights of serving personnel making sure that no court action would be prosecuted without having a chance to respond to it in the same manner as a local, non-service member defendant. 

As can be easily imagined, someone ducking bullets in a foxhole on foreign soil would not be overly concerned about a lawsuit back home and, more importantly, it would be impossible in most instances to respond adequately to legal action or even find out or be notified about it. Accordingly, the Relief Act required the party filing the lawsuit to take certain steps so the service member’s rights under law would not be violated or unduly prejudiced. If efforts to notify the service member proved fruitless (which was typically the case during a military conflict), the plaintiff could be required to have an attorney appointed by the court to respond to the lawsuit on behalf on the service member. This usually stopped such legal action dead in its tracks. After all, the appointed lawyer could not be compelled to offer legal services for free in a civil suit. (And we are not dealing with criminal actions against service members here. That is a separate topic for another time.) So the plaintiff would be faced with paying the plaintiff’s own lawyer and the appointed defendant’s lawyer. Talk about an unsatisfactory situation! Paying your own attorney AND the lawyer representing the party whom your are suing. 

Because of the Relief Act, before these days of simple, uncontested, low-cost, no-fault Pennsylvania divorces, the party filing the divorce was required to file in court what was commonly referred to as an Affidavit of Non-military Service whereby the plaintiff swore to the court, to the best of the plaintiff’s knowledge, information and belief and after reasonable investigation, that the defendant was not in the full-time military service and therefore the plaintiff did not have to contend with the actions that the Relief Act would otherwise impose on the plaintiff. 

But we are now in the times of simple, uncontested, low-cost, no-fault divorce and such a divorce, in Pennsylvania, cannot be concluded without the written consent of the defendant (and that is the case, in a low-cost divorce, no matter how long the couple has been separated). Therefore, because the defendant must consent in writing to such a divorce being granted, the serving military member has firsthand awareness of the divorce and jumping through the hoops created by the Relief Act to protect service personnel becomes unnecessary. (But if the service member defendant refuses to consent, the divorce is considered contested and then compliance with the Relief Act is required.)

Where can a simple, uncontested, low-cost, no-fault divorce be filed? First, as always and regardless of either party being in the military, such a divorce may be filed in a county court in the state wherein either (or both) parties reside as determined by that particular state’s residency requirements. Under Pennsylvania law, either or both parties must have actually resided (gone to sleep and awakened the next day) in Pennsylvania for every day of the six months preceding the filing of the divorce in court.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, serving military personnel could catch a break and be able to file a simple, uncontested, low-cost, no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania if either or both parties legitimately have Pennsylvania as their official military home of record. If that is the case, then either or both parties could be posted, based or stationed anywhere in the world outside of Pennsylvania and file such a divorce in Pennsylvania. Naturally, both parties would have to be and remain available and cooperative until the divorce action was completed.

Accordingly, the important take-away here for military personnel who would like to obtain a simple, uncontested, low-cost, no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania is that if either of you have properly resided in Pennsylvania for the last six months (or more) or if either of you have Pennsylvania as your actual, legitimate military home of record, it can be accomplished in a Pennsylvania court and without any court appearance, and even without going to a lawyer’s office.