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There are many reasons your spouse might refuse to sign divorce papers, due to feelings ranging from disagreement to anger to malice. Whatever their reason might be, if you know that the marriage is irretrievably broken, you might be wondering what you can do to escape from these painful circumstances. This blog will review some options you have if you live in Pennsylvania. Keep in mind that as a Pennsylvania resident, you can also—and you should—contact a York County divorce attorney. Read on to learn more about whether you can get a divorce without your ex’s agreement in Pennsylvania.

What Kinds of Divorces Are Available in Pennsylvania?

Like many other states, Pennsylvania supports a few different kinds of divorce. How exactly each kind of divorce differs from the others is important to understand, as some kinds lend themselves more easily to helping you get an official separation without the agreement of your soon-to-be-former spouse.

Fault or no-fault

Divorce can be first divided into fault and no-fault type divorces. In a no-fault divorce, both exes acknowledge that the marriage is too burdened by irreconcilable differences. By contrast, in a fault divorce, one of the exes alleges that the other committed a personal injury crime against them. In recognition of the harm suffered, the court will presume consent to divorce from the at-fault spouse.

Mutual consent divorce

Subsequently, no-fault divorces can be divided again into mutual consent no-fault divorces and divorces after a year’s separation. The Pennsylvania Consolidated & Unconsolidated Statutes define mutual consent divorce in section 3301, or 23 PA Cons Stat § 3301 (2022), which states that spouses who agree to divorce can individually file an affidavit saying the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” After waiting 90 days, the divorce will take full effect. This kind of divorce requires agreement and coordination, which won’t be the case when your ex refuses to sign divorce papers. But for reference, it merits saying that the 90-day divorce option is one of the faster possible divorce types.

Divorce after separation

According to the same section 3301, now subsection (d), one ex will be able to file for and obtain divorce independently when the former couple has been living in separate homes for a minimum of one year. This requirement was recently amended in 2016, by reducing the length of separation from two years. If the ex who did not initiate divorce proceedings acknowledges that either the former couple has been living apart for a year or that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the divorce is allowed even if only one ex filed for it.

Divorce after institutionalization

In a somewhat ableist turn, one ex is allowed to file for divorce should the other ex begin treatment at a mental hospital. If after waiting 18 months the disabled ex’s treatment plan still lacks an expectation of discharge within another 18 months, then the non-disabled ex will be allowed to divorce without the disabled ex’s consent.

How Can I Get a Divorce Even Without My Ex’s Agreement?

Based on the previous discussion, there would seem to be two ways to get a Pennsylvania divorce when the other former spouse refuses to sign divorce papers: divorce after separation and divorce after institutionalization.

There is another option: a fault divorce, where the ex soliciting the divorce needs to show one of six grounds for divorce apply to their relationship:

  • One ex maliciously or without reasonable cause abandoning the spouse who now wishes to divorce.
  • One ex committed adultery against the spouse requesting divorce.
  • One ex put the divorce-requesting ex’s life or health in peril because of cruel treatment, or otherwise made their situation intolerable.
  • One ex has been bigamous and had married while still in a marriage.
  • One ex was sentenced to two or more years after being convicted of a crime.