When Pennsylvania’s no-fault divorce law became effective in June of 1980, it was a very big deal. We were the 49th state to enact no-fault divorce and we did it in a very modern way. Unlike any other state, if the parties were able to settle everything on their own without fighting it out in court, absolutely no court appearance was required. (I figured out the way to handle such cases with no office appointment and the low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce process was born.)
As anyone familiar with how truly inaccurate the news reporting actually is would know, the media promptly spread errors throughout Pennsylvania about how no-fault divorce worked. Their biggest – and longest lasting – mistake was telling the public that, if you were separated long enough, you could get a divorce whether or not your spouse agreed. Thus the fallacy of the “one signature” divorce was born.
That said, in VERY limited circumstances, one can get a divorce without the other party’s written agreement. Here are the requirements for such a divorce:
1. Such divorces typically cost $3500.00 and up and are NOT a LOW-COST, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce. And that high fee is typically all paid up front and you must hire a local lawyer in your county. You will be spending time off work in that lawyer’s office, too. If you only have a couple hundred dollars available for your divorce, your spouse MUST sign.
2. You need to know where your spouse can be found and served the divorce papers. This must be done by your spouse being physically handed those documents (but not by you) or by Restricted Delivery Certified Mail with your spouse – and no one else – signing the green certified mail receipt card.
3. Your spouse MUST then be mailed two documents, an Important Notice (which informs your spouse there are 20 days to contest the divorce) and a Counter-Affidavit (or, in ordinary English, an affidavit against the divorce) which your spouse can mail to the court, without spending any money – except sixty cents for a stamp – to contest your divorce and require you to schedule a court hearing…which would at least DOUBLE your lawyer fees.
4. If you are lucky and your spouse does not file the contest, that expensive divorce will be granted without your spouse signing anything. Voila! The one signature divorce… but at a very high fee. Do NOT, even for a second, think that you can get such a divorce for, say, $219.00. LOW-COST divorces ALL require your spouse to sign…period. LOW-COST divorces are NOT a “one signature” divorce.
LOW-COST divorces are never “one signature”. Your spouse’s signature – and it may have to be notarized – will be required for any low-cost divorce you see. This reduces the choices of anyone wanting to be divorced to just three: First, doing absolutely nothing, staying married…maybe you’ll outlive your spouse. Second, trying a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce, and hoping your spouse will sign. They almost always do. Third, scrimping and saving up $3000.00 to $4000.00 for a local, full-service, full-price law firm…and hoping that your spouse does not file that Counter-Affidavit and drive the expense of your already costly divorce beyond your financial means. (Plenty of spouses have filed that Affidavit just to be mean and/or to continue to exert control over your life.)
Face it. If you try a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce and you are never able to get your spouse’s signature, what you will have spent on the process will be chump change compared to the thousands of dollars you will need for your full-service law firm. And even if you do that, you will have to keep all of your fingers crossed that your spouse does not contest, using an affidavit that YOUR lawyer must send to your spouse!
The verdict on the existence of the fabled “one signature” divorce? It does NOT exist if your finances limit you to a LOW-COST divorce. Low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorces are cheap for a reason: If both parties are available and cooperative, your attorney will spend very little time on it and you end up single.
Summary: If you hire a local full-service law firm for $3000.00 to $4000.00 or more, have been apart for a year or more, your spouse can be found and served and does not file the contest affidavit YOUR lawyer must provide (for free), your spouse would not have to sign anything, but if your divorce budget is limited to a couple hundred dollars for a LOW-COST, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce, your spouse MUST sign.