Do Both Spouses Have to Live in Pennsylvania to Get a PA Divorce?

It is not at all uncommon for two legally married spouses to be living in two different states at the time that one of the spouses wants to file for divorce. Common situations include: 1) two spouses moving to a new state, only to have one spouse turn around and go “home”; 2) one spouse returning to family and friends in a state, while the other spouse stays in another state (the vice versa of the first scenario); 3) long periods of separation for work; or even 4) abandonment by one spouse who simply up and leaves the state. Whatever the scenario, if you are in Pennsylvania, but your spouse no longer resides in the state, you will still be able to get a divorce in Pennsylvania, subject to some legal requirements.

You Need to Have Been in Pennsylvania For at Least Six Months

Many people mistakenly think they need to return to the state they were married in to obtain a divorce. But, even though marriage licenses are issued by state officials, the court of any other state is able to grant a divorce, provided you meet that state’s residency requirements.

In Pennsylvania, the rule is that at least one spouse must have resided in Pennsylvania for at least six months with the intent to remain in the state permanently in order to file for divorce (this does not mean you are committing to living in the state forever, only that it is the state you are living in at the time you file and you have no imminent plans to leave).

This means that Pennsylvania can grant you a divorce even if your spouse no longer lives in Pennsylvania or has never even stepped foot into the state.

The Importance of Personal Jurisdiction Over Your Spouse in a PA Divorce

Again, Pennsylvania courts do have the power to legally end your marriage (and a PA divorce decree will be valid in all 50 states) even if your spouse has never been to the state, but there are some implications that could apply.

A court will need to determine whether it has personal jurisdiction over your spouse. Personal jurisdiction over a party means the court has the party to issue orders with which that person must comply. Whether a court has personal jurisdiction over a person can be a long, complex analysis, but, in short, if your spouse has never stepped foot in Pennsylvania or has very little contact with the state, the court might not have personal jurisdiction over that spouse.

What does this mean for you if a court does not have personal jurisdiction over your spouse? Although the court will still be able to grant the divorce, legally ending the marriage, not having personal jurisdiction means that the court could be limited in ordering your spouse to pay alimony or to provide you with property in his or her possession located outside the state of Pennsylvania.

There are ways to obtain personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state spouse, however, including serving him or her with court documents while visiting the state. Furthermore, it may be possible to file paperwork in a court which does have personal jurisdiction over your spouse. At any rate, you are advised to work with an experienced family law attorney in determining the most beneficial way to pursue a divorce.

Get Help With Your PA Family Law Matter Today

At The Martin Law Firm, P.C., our family law team works with men and women across Southeastern Pennsylvania in family law matters – including divorce, child custody, and visitation –  and we are committed to serving your needs in a compassionate and efficient manner. Call us today for a no-hassle consultation regarding any questions you have about visitation in Pennsylvania.

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