(Divorce, Custody, Support)


Pennsylvania does not have a formal filing for a married couple to separate.  Two individuals are separated when they are no longer living as a married couple would.  For instance, they are not taking vacations together, eating meals together, sharing finances, sharing a bedroom, or being intimate.

Married individuals may be “separated” even when living under the same roof.  In this case, their relationship would be more like that of roommates than a married couple.

Not necessarily.  In the division of assets in a divorce in Pennsylvania, more important than the titling of property is when the property was acquired.  With a few exceptions, assets that were acquired during the marriage are “marital property” and subject to distribution between the parties.  Also, the increase in value during the marriage of any asset owned by either party prior to the marriage is subject to equitable distribution.

No, not necessarily.  Pennsylvania uses “equitable distribution,” which requires a number of factors to be considered in determining how assets will be allocated.  Those factors are:

(1)  The length of the marriage.

(2)  Any prior marriage of either party.

(3)  The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties.

(4)  The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.

(5)  The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income.

(6)  The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.

(7)  The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker.

(8)  The value of the property set apart to each party.

(9)  The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.

(10)  The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is to become effective.

(10.1)  The Federal, State and local tax ramifications associated with each asset to be divided, distributed or assigned, which ramifications need not be immediate and certain.

(10.2)  The expense of sale, transfer or liquidation associated with a particular asset, which expense need not be immediate and certain.

(11)  Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.

Factors can be found here  

Examining these factors, the Court will decide (or the parties will agree to) the allocation of marital assets and debts.

The answer varies significantly, based upon the circumstances of each case.

Briefly, if both parties agree to be divorced AND either (1) have no economic issues to resolve or (2) agree to all issues of marital assets and debts, a divorce can be finalized within 90-100 days of one party filing and serving the Complaint on the other.

If one party will not agree to the divorce but there are no economic issues to resolve, the divorce can be finalized once the parties have been separated for one year. 

If parties are not able to agree among themselves to distribution of assets and debts (or if one party is completely nonresponsive), either spouse may file with the Court to have a hearing officer appointed to hear the issues.  The Court can issue Orders requiring the other spouse to produce financial records and to participate in a hearing.

York County has a Self-Help Center where forms are available.  Those forms are also available here 

Adams County provides divorce forms and instructions here 

Custody & Support​

There is no age at which a child’s preference decides the schedule of custody.  The “well-reasoned preference” of the child is one factor that the Court must consider in making a decision in a custody case, but there are several other factors that also come into play.

If the matter goes to trial, the Judge may speak to a child who is as young as five or six, depending on the child’s maturity and intelligence, and the issues in the case.

In York County specifically, after a Custody Complaint or Petition for Modification is filed, a conciliation is scheduled to occur within two to three weeks.  Children aged seven and older must be available during that proceeding to speak with the conciliator privately.

In Pennsylvania, having legal custody entitles the party to participate in major life decisions for the child, relating to issues such as religion, education, and health and medical care.  In most cases, legal custody is shared by the mother and father; neither has superior rights to make these decisions without the participation of the other.

Physical custody refers to the time that the child is actually with a party.  The types of physical custody – and the percentages of time with the child – are:

  • Sole physical custody (100%);
  • Primary physical custody (more than 50%);
  • Shared physical custody (50/50);
  • Partial physical custody (less than 50%); and
  • Supervised visitation.

It is very uncommon for one party to have sole physical custody when the other party is available and stable, relatively closeby, does not abuse or neglect the child, and does not have a significant criminal background.

Parents who are in agreement on issues of custody do not necessarily need an Order.  However, an Order is enforceable by the Court, whereas a verbal or written agreement between parties is not.  Without an Order, either parent can legally withhold the child from the other.

Also, even where parents typically get along, an Order can provide fallback provisions in the event of a dispute.

It depends.

There are certain enumerated crimes that, if a parent (or a parent’s adult household member) has been charged with, pleaded guilty to, or been found guilty of, the Court cannot award that parent any form of custody until it has determined that the parent (or household member) poses no threat of harm to the child.

These crimes generally include violent crimes, sexual offenses, crimes against minors, drug offenses, and DUI’s.  Offenses such as harassment, simple assault, and fraud are not included in this list.

Sometimes, if the crime was minor and/or long ago, the Court will determine that no threat of harm exists without further investigation.  In other cases the other parent can agree that there is no threat of harm.

In some cases, though, the parent with the criminal background must undergo a threat-of-harm evaluation.  The evaluator will interview that parent, the other parent, and any other individuals whom the evaluator wishes in investigating whether there is a threat of harm to the child.  Ultimately a report will be produced with the evaluator’s conclusion and recommendation.   The offending parent is responsible for the cost of that evaluation.

Probably, yes.  During a parent’s custodial time, except in the case of a supervision requirement or other unique situation, that parent may take the child wherever and with whomever he or she chooses, within reason.  Of course, the child should not be missing school or extracurricular activities, should not be neglected, and should not be exposed to unsavory individuals.  A visit to the grandparents’ home 20 minutes away in Maryland is not per se problematic simply because the destination is located outside of Pennsylvania. 

Usually law enforcement will not get heavily involved in a custody dispute, but will encourage the parties to deal with the matter in Court.

A violation of a custody Order is contempt.  You may file a Petition asking that the Court hold a party in contempt for that violation.  Sanctions available for contempt of a custody Order are:

  • Imprisonment for up to six months;
  • A fine of not more than $500;
  • Probation for up to six months;
  • Nonrenewal, suspension or denial of operating privilege; and/or
  • The other party’s attorneys’ fees and costs.

Generally a change in the schedule of custody is not an available penalty in a contempt matter.

An Order is a directive from the Court on how parties are to handle themselves; Judges understandably frown upon parties’ disregarding Orders or engaging in self help.  Except when someone is in physical danger, an Order should be followed as written, and permission to change the Order sought through the Courts.

When parties come to an agreement on custody, they can agree to nearly anything they want, including holidays.  The options are to alternate holidays, split holidays (where the child spends time with each parent on each holiday), or select specific holidays that each party will have each year.

When there is no agreement and the Court must impose a schedule, typically the default holidays are New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving, and those holidays are alternated by the parties.  Mother has physical custody every Mother’s Day, and Father every Father’s Day.

Christmas is handled separately and is usually broken into two 24-hour shifts:  from noon (or other specified time) on Christmas Eve until noon on Christmas Day, and noon on Christmas Day until noon on December 26th.  Those shifts are then alternated from year to year.

Again, the parties can agree to an alternate arrangement, and the Court may direct something different if the circumstances warrant.  For instance, Easter may be a holiday that is particularly important to one party or the other, or both parties may agree that New Year’s Day need not be included in the holiday rotation.

Most often, no provision is made for the child’s birthday absent agreement of the parties.  

Grandparents have a higher burden than parents to get legal or physical custody of a child.  Generally, in most cases if both parents of the child do not want the grandparent to have contact with the child, the grandparent cannot overcome that decision.

As to circumstances in which grandparents may be entitled to seek custodial rights: 

Grandparents (or great-grandparents) can petition the Court for primary physical custody if:

The grandparents’ relationship with the child began with the consent of a parent or court order; AND 

The grandparents are willing to assume responsibility for the child; AND 


(a) the child is deemed dependent;

(b) the child is at risk due to parental abuse; or 

(c) the child resided with the grandparent for at least 12 consecutive months, excluding brief temporary absences of the child from the home, and is removed from the home by the parents (the case must be filed within six months of the child’s removal from the home).

Grandparents (or great-grandparents) can petition the Court for partial or supervised physical custody if one of three situations exists:

The child’s parent (who was the child of the grandparents) is deceased; OR

The child had lived with the grandparents for 12 consecutive months and was later removed from their home by a parent (the case must be filed within six months of the child’s removal from the home); OR

The grandparents’ relationship with the child began with the consent of a parent or under a court order AND the parents of the child have commenced a proceeding for custody AND the parents do not agree on whether the grandparents should have custody.

Your county’s Domestic Relations Section handles child support (and spousal support and APL).  An online application is available here

After a Complaint for Support is filed, the local DRS will schedule a conference which both parties are directed to attend.  Prior to that conference, each party is to submit financial information, such as the most recent tax return, last six months of paystubs, documentation of childcare costs and health insurance costs, and any extraordinary expenses related to the child.

A Child Support Estimator is available here

Potentially yes, depending primarily upon the incomes of the parties.  Shared custody does not automatically eliminate the obligation for child support.

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