Getting Divorced in Pennsylvania in Quarantine
On April 1, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended its prior Order for a general, statewide judicial emergency through April 30, 2020 and declared that Pennsylvania Courts “SHALL REMAIN CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has provided authorization to the President Judges throughout the Commonwealth to declare judicial emergencies through May 31, 2020. There are specific exceptions to the court closures, including emergency custody filings and protection from abuse order but a frequent question that is being asked is “Can I still file for divorce?”
To answer this question for prospective clients in quarantine, you must first look to the County where the individual resides (and note that it may not be the same as their spouse). In counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania including Montgomery and Bucks County, practitioners and individuals can submit non-emergent filings electronically. For a novice, this process may be daunting and confusing and deter someone from filing a Complaint in Divorce, but the option remains available. In other counties, including Philadelphia, the Family Court does not have the means to accept non-emergent filings at this stage of the pandemic. However, court closures should not deter an individual from broaching the subject of divorce with their spouse or through counsel (assuming it is safe to do so). Attorneys are participating in Zoom meetings and mediations in an effort to help individuals reach a financial resolution of their divorce matter, with the expectation that all necessary documents will be filed in due course upon the Courts reopening their doors to the public.
Divorce is a form of civil litigation. In addition to obtaining a divorce decree, the related court process may include many important rights including financial and property rights that an individual could lose if the divorce is not handled properly. It is recommended that individuals hire and/or, at a minimum, consult with a lawyer to represent them in any divorce action. If you would like information about hiring a lawyer, please contact your county’s Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service. If you choose not to hire a lawyer, you may expose yourself to giving up or being held for important financial rights and/or obligations now and in the future. Further, when you choose to represent yourself on these issues, the court will expect you to follow the state and local rules of procedure the same as though you had a lawyer representing you.