The easy answer to this rather infrequent question is, “It depends.” Before I explain exactly what it depends on, please understand that any low-cost divorce handled in Pennsylvania requires the written cooperation of both parties no matter how long you may be separated. That’s just the way it is for a truly low-cost case, which must be a simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce. Lots of people have heard that once you have been separated for over one year (originally 3 years, then 2 years, but just 1 year since the end of 2016), you can get your divorce whether or not the other side wants it. That is pure nonsense… unless you have a lot of money for legal fees and a lot of time. More on that soon.
One thing it depends upon is whether or not the other side will act to contest or stop the divorce. If you have been living separate and apart for every day of at least the last year and you file through a local full-service law firm in your home county and spend several thousand in legal fees and your spouse, who may not agree, does nothing to stop it, such divorce may take only several months, fault or no-fault (and if it is a fault case, you do not have to be separated at all).
To stop the fault divorce, all your spouse needs to do is show up at the hearing, even without a lawyer, a state the intention to contest. You now have a contested fault divorce and you will need truly good, provable grounds and high four-figures to moderate five-figures in legal fees and another 18 to 36 months.
To stop the no-fault divorce – one based upon a provable separation of over one year – your spouse need only file the counter-affidavit (an affidavit against the divorce) which your attorney must mail to your spouse immediately after your spouse is served the divorce papers. There is no fee or lawyer needed for your spouse to file the counter-affidavit. If your spouse does not want the divorce but fails to file the counter-affidavit (or otherwise file a contest), that divorce would go through, as stated above, in several months; however, if the counter-affidavit is filed, you will need thousands of dollars in additional legal fees and court costs to schedule and have a hearing to prove that you have been apart over one year. Even if you have been separated that long, it would be a mistake to assume that that would be easy to prove; moreover, if your spouse also filed economic claims – easy to do by checking a box on the counter-affidavit – you will have to contend with those issues in court as well. Count on another 18 to 24 months. And I should point out here that if you file a no-fault divorce and you are not separated or separated less than twelve months, all your spouse needs to do to stop that divorce is refuse to sign the required Affidavit of Consent.