Divorce can be a long and time consuming process that is not for the faint of heart. However, a recent bill proposed before the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee could result in a substantial decrease in the time, cost and headache of divorce proceedings in Pennsylvania. This bill, proposed by a Representative from Luzerne County and supported by members of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section, would reduce the current two-year waiting period under Pennsylvania’s no-fault divorce law to one year.
Pennsylvania is one of the last states to hold onto a fault and no fault system of divorce. Under the fault system, a plaintiff must allege that their spouse engaged in any number of nefarious acts that led to their filing a divorce complaint. Though this system was common across the country during the twentieth century, most divorce cases hit snags because acts like adultery or abuse were also affirmative defenses to a divorce. This meant that if both parties had “behaved badly”, neither party would be permitted to divorce, and the unhappy couple would have to remain married. Thankfully, during the mid-twentieth century, Pennsylvania and states around the country began to adopt no-fault divorce laws, which allowed couples to be granted a divorce without having to prove that one of them committed intolerable acts.
Under the current no-fault divorce laws in Pennsylvania, separating couples have two options. If they both agree that their marriage is “irretrievably broken” one spouse can file the divorce complaint, and the parties must wait ninety days (during which time the parties often finalize property distribution issues). Once those ninety days are up, the parties each file an Affidavit of Consent and Waiver of Notice of Intention to Request Entry of a Divorce Decree, and the process is completed with a few more forms and signatures.
This process only happens, however, when both parties consent to a divorce. If one of the parties does not consent, under current state law, the party seeking the divorce must prove that the spouses have lived “separate and apart” for a minimum of two years in order for a divorce to entered. This law has led to year of headache, complication, and court costs for decades of divorcing couples and required proof that the parties did not live together as husband and wife for at least twenty-four months. Sometimes, divorcing couples were forced to attend (and pay for) full trials to litigate the simple issue of when they began to live “separate and apart”.
Though this law would still require parties to a contested divorce to live separately for twelve months, it will likely drastically decrease the time and expense devoted to divorce cases in the Commonwealth. Members of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section argue that this change in the law would focus courts on resolving the overall divorce issues, as opposed to allowing a system that facilitates and fosters delay that is both economically and emotionally costly.
If Pennsylvania passes this law, it will fall in line with many other neighboring states with much shorter waiting periods including Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, which all have six month waiting periods. The waiting period is one year in Maryland, and there is no waiting period in West Virginia.
Regardless of whether this proposed legislation is passed, divorcing couples need the assistance of skilled and informed attorneys who are able to both zealously advocate for their clients and provide the emotional strength and stability necessary to guide parties through this often trying process. If you are considering divorce and looking for assistance, contact our Pittsburgh office today.