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You must choose a legally valid reason to ask for divorce

If you are thinking about asking for divorce, you probably have carefully considered why you believe divorce is the best option for your situation. However, you may also need to consider what legally valid reason, called a ground, you will use when filing for divorce.

Even if you have thought carefully about your personal reason for divorce, it can still be beneficial to consider the ground you will use because the ground you choose can affect the timeline, process and outcome of your divorce. Pennsylvania recognizes four different types of grounds, including fault grounds, an institutionalization ground, a mutual consent ground and an irretrievable breakdown ground.

Fault grounds

Fault grounds for divorce blame your spouse for the need for divorce. Typically with fault-grounds, you must be able to prove that you are an innocent and injured party and that your spouse committed one of the fault grounds. If you cannot prove that a valid action occurred or if your spouse successfully defends himself or herself, a court may not grant you your divorce.

A fault ground may be appropriate for your situation if your spouse:

  • Willfully deserted you without cause for at least a year
  • Committed adultery
  • Treated you cruelly, which endangered your life or health
  • Knowingly entered a bigamous marriage
  • Has been sentenced to prison for at least two years
  • Offered you indignities that made your condition intolerable and life burdensome


If your spouse is committed to a mental institution because of insanity or a serious mental disorder, you may be able to get a divorce based on the institutionalization ground. For this ground to be appropriate, your spouse must have been living in a mental institution for at least 18 months before you file for divorce, and there must be no expectation of your spouse being discharged over the next 18 months.

Like with fault grounds, there is an element of proof associated with the institutionalization ground. You must obtain a certificate of the superintendent of the mental institution stating that your spouse is not expected to be released in the next 18 months. This certificate must also include a supporting statement of a doctor who is treating your spouse.

Mutual consent

If you and your spouse agree that divorce is the best option for your situation, the mutual consent ground may be appropriate. To use this ground, you file for divorce stating that your marriage is irretrievably broken. After 90 days have passed since your spouse was served the divorce papers, you and your spouse can file consent forms. If your spouse committed a person injury crime against you, your spouse’s consent will be presumed.

Irretrievable breakdown

If your spouse does not agree to a divorce and other grounds do not apply, you may still get a divorce with the irretrievable breakdown ground. You may also choose this ground over a fault-based ground because it may be less likely that your spouse will successfully disprove your claim that the marriage is irretrievably broken than disprove a fault-based claim. However, you and your spouse must live apart for at least one year for a court to grant you a divorce.

To be granted a divorce, you must select one of the grounds that Pennsylvania recognizes. The ground that you choose to use when filing for divorce can affect how long it takes for you to get a divorce, the steps you must take to obtain a divorce and even the outcome of your divorce. Because the ground you choose can have such a significant effect on your divorce, it is important to carefully consider your options and choose the one that makes the most sense for your unique situation.

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Holsinger, Clark & Armstrong, P.C.
832 Philadelphia Street
Indiana, PA 15701

Phone: 724-471-0129
Fax: 724-463-1921
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