A seismic shift occurred for Divorce in Pennsylvania. On October 5, 2016 Governor Wolfe signed House Bill 380 into law which shortens the period a person must wait for a divorce when the other spouse does not agree. Before today, Pennsylvania's Domestic Relations lawrequired a two-year waiting period before one party could seek a divorce decree from the court without the other's consent. This change in the law brings Pennsylvania closer to the national trend of shortening the period the law forces upon divorcing couples. Many of my clients are thrilled with this change, as it opens up the possibility of completing their divorce faster and allowing for the next period in their lives to start an entire year earlier than they originally expected.
One reason the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Tara Toohil of Luzerne County, pushed for a change, was to protect children from lengthy custody battles. When one spouse disagrees with getting a divorce, too often children are placed in the position of seeing their parents fight, or worse, being used as pawns in the divorce. By reducing the waiting period by one year, it is the hope of lawmakers to shield children from the damaging effects of a prolonged divorce. When asked for a comment, Rep Toohil responded, "Divorcing couples . . . find themselves in lengthy court battles" and that "Children end up being pawns in a divorce game and people end up going broke due to legal fees and a failure to manage mortgages and bills in a timely fashion."
In addition to shortening time, this new law goes even further to protect children. In the event where divorcing spouses are still working on economic concerns such as alimony, child support, and equitable distribution matters, the parties can seek what is known as a bifurcation decree. This is when the parties are issued a divorce decree while still negotiating the financial details of the divorce. Before the law, only case law and judicial wisdom took the children's economic concerns into account when considering whether or not to grant a bifurcation in any given divorce case. The new language now states that "sufficient economic protections for any minor children of the marriage" must be considered. The practical impact of this change will be to require judges and attorneys to put increased priority to financial concerns like child support and custody rights before focusing on dividing a couple's property and money.
Left unchanged in this bill was the scenario where both parties agree to a no-fault divorce. When a spouses agree to a divorce, then a 90-day waiting period after the first document is served has gone unchanged.4 This portion of the law is a more common way people handle divorce matters currently, but in the case where former spouses cannot agree, the shorter period will alleviate the suffering everyone enduring during a divorce.
Whether you face a contested or non-contested divorce, or have a question about this new law, our office can help. Call us at 717-461-2420 anytime. We also accept DUI, Criminal Defense, and Veteran's Disability Benefit cases.