Pennsylvania introduced its current no fault Divorce Code in 1980, enabling couples who both consent to divorce to move forward with resolving their economics and obtaining a divorce in 90 days, provided each spouse files an affidavit declaring the marriage “irretrievably broken.” However, if one of the parties does not consent to a divorce, then the Code requires a mandatory period of separation before a divorce may be granted. Originally, a couple had to be separated for three (3) years before a spouse could file an affidavit declaring the marriage to be irretrievably broken, and seek a divorce over the other spouse’s objection. This separation period was reduced to two (2) years in 1988, and has remained in effect until now.
After much debate, Pennsylvania’s Governor recently signed Act 102, amending the Divorce Code by reducing the separation period to only one (1) year for those who separate on or after December 1, 2016. A person seeking a divorce from a spouse who does not agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken need now only wait one year to file an affidavit and obtain a unilateral, no-fault divorce over the other spouse’s objection.
The principle behind this mandatory waiting period has always been to discourage divorce and to provide couples an opportunity to reconcile, but the general consensus is that a long, mandatory period of separation does not help people reconcile. The longer period of separation actually unnecessarily extends these failing relationships, and many people become more acrimonious. This also needlessly draws out the period of time children are exposed to an unhealthy home environment. On the other hand, dependent spouses may find that that this shorter period negatively impacts their economic situation, because this the shorter period lessens their time to receive support as they transition into new lives. However, the counterbalance is that with a shorter separation period, couples may resolve the division of their assets and debts, and determine alimony for a dependent spouse sooner, without the additional cost resulting from extended litigation. We can all agree that getting it done sooner rather than later has its benefits for all involved, and Pennsylvania just made that possible! Let the Family Law lawyers at Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky answer your specific questions as you navigate through this new process.