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Making Sense Of Pennsylvania's New Divorce Laws

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Divorce isn’t really a pleasant topic; even when it becomes necessary, it causes a significant amount of pain and emotional distress to everyone involved. In some of the worst cases, it can take months, or even years, before the whole, messy process is over. In Pennsylvania, though, that process may be shortened in some particularly stressful circumstances.

If you have been paying to the news, Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf signed a new bill into law in October of 2016. That bill went into effect in December. But what exactly does the new law change?

The Old LawPhoto: Laws.com

When one half of a married couple decides that the marriage is over and they want a divorce, but the other person doesn’t give consent, it is what a divorce attorney would call a “unilateral, no fault divorce.” Under the old law, the person wanting the divorce had to endure a two-year waiting period after separating before the divorce could proceed. Before this point, the parties could  not even request that the court divide the marital assets.

Originally enacted with a three-year waiting period in 1980, when Pennsylvania first introduced no-fault divorce, the old law’s intent was to give the couple the opportunity to reconcile. Lawmakers believed that the law would prevent many couples from making a rash decision and getting a divorce that they would later regret. The waiting period was reduced to two years in 1988.

According to research, however, the law has actually caused more suffering than it has prevented. In most cases, parties filing for divorce have already endured a year or two of a stressful, negative situation, sometimes even longer. Adding another two years was more likely to tie people, children in particular, into a toxic situation as they waited for the courts to decide on custody and other specifics.

In some cases, the law was even misused by one half of the married couple as a way of manipulating their partner. The person refusing to sign the divorce papers could bring the entire process to a halt and use the prospect of a messy divorce process that would go on for two years as leverage to gain an advantage, essentially holding the divorce process hostage for as long as 24 months. Not only was

One Common Misconception

While it is a common misconception, a divorce does not automatically occur after a separation of two years. Spouses must still file for a divorce after the two-year period has passed in order for it to become official. Without filing, the two individuals are still considered legally married. The significance of those two years applies only to the requirement for both parties to agree to the divorce.

The New Law

On October 4, 2016, Governor Wolf signed the new bill into law. Under the new law, the waiting period is reduced from two years to one. While some people opposed to the law claim that it is a subtle attempt to advocate for divorce, proponents of the new law argue that its purpose is to decrease the suffering of those involved. According to advocates, most people consider divorce to be a last resort, and by the time a year has passed, any longer waiting period serves no purpose but to prolong an already difficult process.

Under the new law, divorcing couples will have less time to work out their financial situations before divorce proceedings, which is a double-edged sword. While it adds a new sense of urgency to an already messy process, it also permits couples to make a clean break in a shorter time. Under the new legislation, they will no longer be tied together financially, which can be difficult for everyone involved.

The new law went into effect on December 5, 2016; however, it does not work retroactively. It only applies to separation periods beginning after the law was enacted. This means that the soonest the law will have any direct impact will be December 2017.

Lewis Robinson is a business consultant specializing in social media marketing, CRM, and sales.  He's had the opportunity to manage his own startup businesses and currently freelances as a writer and business consultant.

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Photo: laws.com