Pennsylvania’s Potential Change in Divorce Law

One of the most common questions a potential divorce client asks an attorney is "How long will it take for me to get divorced?" This is because typically once a potential client walks through the door of an attorney's office, he or she has already made the decision to go through with a divorce.

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with the answer. There are different divorces a spouse can ask for. First, there is a 'fault' divorce, when a spouse alleges the other spouse is 'at fault' for the dissolution of the marriage. These types of divorces are rarely filed.

Next, a divorce can be obtained by 'mutual consent', meaning that both spouses can file consent paperwork ninety days after one spouse serves the other spouse with a divorce complaint. Although entirely possible to receive a divorce after exactly ninety days, these 'consent' divorces typically take a little longer if the parties have assets and liabilities to divide.

Finally, a divorce can be obtained by a spouse whose spouse doesn't want a divorce, after a separation period of two years. Thus, it is entirely possible for a spouse who doesn't want a divorce to stall the divorce process for quite a long time.

This may change soon, as legislation has been introduced by Representative Tarah Toohil of Luzerne County, called "House Bill 380". In support of this proposed legislation, Rep. Toohil indicates that providing for a shorter divorce time period would reduce overall litigation, lessen conflict, and cause a divorce to be less traumatizing for the spouses and children involved. She also points out in her memorandum that surrounding states have much shorter waiting periods for a divorce. Rep. Toohil's proposed legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the state House, and is now before the state Senate. To see Rep. Toohil's memorandum on this subject, click here.

Rep. Toohil presents a good argument on why the divorce process should be shortened. Typically, if spouses were to reconcile, it usually happens during the first six months of the divorce process, Thus, shortening the divorce process would not prevent most reconciliations. Second, especially in the case where one spouse was the primary breadwinner and/or holder of most marital assets during the marriage, splitting the assets sooner rather than later can further economic justice to a much greater extent. It seems unjust for one spouse to hold assets for two years while the other spouse is financially incapable of supporting himself or herself until the divorce is finalized. This can be especially damaging to a spouse who serves as the primary caregiver to minor children after separation. Additionally, shortening the time frame for divorce would reduce the opportunity for one spouse to essentially 'drag out' a divorce for the purposes of collecting temporary alimony on a relatively short marriage.

Thus, shortening the time frame for divorce from two years to one year appears to make sense for a number of reasons. It will be interesting to see if this Bill receives as much support in the state Senate as it did in the state House.