This article was originally published on the New Pittsburgh Courier by Lauren Rosenblatt on April 26, 2016

Photo by Gerard Van der Leun | flickr

Statewide, victims of spousal abuse can now more easily get through the legal process of divorce. In Allegheny County, the legislation could not have come soon enough.

In 2015, Allegheny County had the highest number of victim deaths from domestic violence in the state with 17 deaths. In Philadelphia County, 16 people died as a result of domestic violence that year, according a report from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence [PCADV].

On April 12, Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 12 to loosen statewide restrictions on divorce for victims of spousal abuse, allowing them to quickly exit an unsafe marriage.

According to a release from the governor’s office, until this bill passed, divorce could take up to two years without the consent of both individuals. Furthermore, before the divorce was finalized, the couple had to attend at least three court-mandated counseling sessions.

The bill, which passed unanimously, allows the court to assume consent of a party who has been convicted of a personal injury against their spouse. The victim can object to counseling if the victim has a protection from abuse order, if the court has previously convicted the spouse of a personal injury case or if the spouse is currently in or has been in the accelerated rehabilitation program for a personal injury case.

Lori G. Sywensky, executive director of the Turning Point of Lehigh Valley — an organization that advocates for victims of abuse  — said in a release that HB12 will be an “important tool” to help victims make the difficult decision of leaving an abusive spouse.

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