INSIDE STORY: Gosselin Divorce Papers Explained

06/29/2009 at 11:30 AM EDT

INSIDE STORY: Gosselin Divorce Papers Explained
Jon and Kate Gosselin
Kate Gosselin – of TV's Kate & Jon Plus 8 – filed legal documents to end her marriage in one of two counties in Pennsylvania where divorce cases are kept sealed. But leaks to the press have brought some of the details into the open – and caused a world of confusion. What are the grounds for divorce? Is Kate really claiming the pair separated two years ago?

Beware of reading too much in to the perfectly standard filings that have appeared so far, legal experts tell PEOPLE. About the only thing that is clear is that the couple, who married in 1999 and have eight kids, are opting for a no-fault divorce – the kind that lawyers like to call "divorce with dignity."

No Assigning Blame

The process begins when an attorney representing one of the spouses files a complaint requesting "equitable distribution of marital property," which Kate Gosselin's lawyer did at the Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown, Pa., on June 22. While it is possible in that state to file for a "fault" divorce, the kind seen in movies in which one party claims to be the victim of infidelity, cruelty or other dire circumstances, that has become relatively rare, according to Lynne Gold-Bikin, a prominent family law attorney in Norristown.

"You don't always have an innocent, injured spouse," says Gold-Bikin. Assigning blame to one partner would "start a fight, and they [apparently] don’t want to do that," says Gold-Bilkin. "They have kids."

Standard Procedure

There are two grounds for a no-fault divorce request in Pennsylvania – Kate opted for both, which is also standard – and this is where the language in the filings, first reproduced on TMZ, gets technical and confusing. "The first is called 'mutual consent,' " Gold-Bikin says. That means that if, after 90 days, both sides officially agree the marriage is irretrievably broken, then the divorce can proceed.

The second ground states that if, two years from now, the grounds for divorce still hasn't been resolved by the spouses, then one party can file an affidavit alleging the marriage is irretrievably broken. At that point, the court appoints an official known as a master to hold a hearing and work out any unresolved financial issues.

Jon and Kate have just begun the divorce process, and so far are taking the high road. Of course, what happens next in the volatile lives of this television couple is anybody's guess.

Lawyers representing both Gosselins declined to comment for this story.

For more on the Gosselins – including why Kate filed for divorce, how she and Jon told the kids about the split and her plans for the future – pick up the July 6 issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

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