Pennsylvania Cuts Divorce Waiting Period in Half
On October 5, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law legislation that will reduce the waiting period for no-fault divorces in Pennsylvania from two years down to one year. The law applies to new divorce complaints being filed after December 3, 2016. The key here is “new” complaints. Unfortunately, the law will not help those with divorce cases already pending. You can read the Statute here.
In Pennsylvania there are two ways to obtain a no-fault divorce. The first, and quickest, is by the consent of both parties. In those instances, the parties only need to wait 90 days from when the divorce complaint was filed before they can finalize their divorce. The second, which takes longer, is by waiting out the requisite separation period. This second way is needed if one of the parties will not agree to the divorce. Prior to this new law being passed, the person seeking the divorce would need to wait two years before they could finalize the divorce. Now with the new law, they will only need to wait one year.
For those going through a divorce and for us as practitioners, waiting two years seemed like an absurdly long time especially given that New Jersey has a separation period of six months and New York requires one year. With the two-year separation period, cases would often go on for years making it extremely difficult for the parties to have closure and to move on to the next chapter of their lives. And if there was a house to sell or assets to be divided, those would have to be put on hold until after that two-year separation period was up.
The law has not affected the definition of “separation” though. There is often some grey area as to what starts the clock for parties being considered “separated.” Based upon the literal definition of “separation” one might think that a spouse actually has to move out of the house for the parties to be separated. However, it is entirely possible, and also very common nowadays for the parties to be deemed “separated” in the eyes of the law while still living in the same household. What needs to occur for the parties to be separated is for there to be evidence that they are no longer living as husband and wife. This could mean that one spouse explicitly tells the other spouse that the marriage is over, one spouse could move into a separate bedroom, or the parties could have begun segregating their finances and opening separate bank accounts. The multitude of scenarios often leads to spouses having vastly different beliefs as to when the date of separation actually occurred.
Because the circumstances surrounding everyone’s separation is different you should always consult with an experienced family law attorney to discuss the specific facts of your case.