Gov. Tom Wolf has signed into law a bill that advocates say will lessen the toll divorce takes on children.
Act 102, which takes effect in 60 days, reduces the waiting period for unilateral no-fault divorce from two years to one.
That means a spouse will need to wait only a year before obtaining a divorce without the other spouse’s consent. It will also allows couples to more quickly start the process of dividing assets and determining whether alimony is necessary.
Spouses must live apart for the one-year period before one can file an affidavit affirming that the marriage is irreparable.
Pennsylvania introduced no-fault divorce in 1980 when it reformed its 1785 divorce code after years of debate.
It joined three other methods — mutual no-fault, in which both spouses consent to divorce; fault, in which one spouse has to prove wrongdoing by the other; and divorces granted when one spouse has been confined to a mental hospital for 18 months and will remain confined at least another 18 months.
The no-fault waiting period, meant to give couples time to reconcile, was three years but reduced to two in 1988.
By reducing it further, “it looks like we were making it easier for people to get divorces, but what we’ve learned is that a long mandatory separation period doesn’t help people reconcile,” said Mary Cushing Doherty, a Doylestown attorney who advocated for the legislation on behalf of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section.
Indeed, some would take advantage of the long wait to intimidate their spouses into abandoning their divorce bid, said Cushing Doherty, who has been in family law practice for 35 years.
“Sometimes the people who were benefiting were manipulators,” she said, “and sometimes they were lawyers dragging out [billable] hours.”
Tom Strohl, a longtime marriage counselor in Allentown, agreed that it’s pointless to keep people legally bound for two years.
A divorce can involve immediate painful and upsetting emotions. When dealing with divorce, it’s important to feel comfortable working with a divorce lawyer who will help guide you toward the outcome you want for yourself and your family. The aggressive divorce lawyers at Sebald, Hackwelder, & Knox, located in Erie, PA, will listen to you with compassion and help walk you through the best strategy that fits your needs.