Until recently if one party to a marriage would not consent to a divorce in Pennsylvania there was a mandatory two year waiting period before the moving party could proceed with a divorce. On October 4, 2016, Governor Wolf signed House Bill 380, which reduces the waiting period from two years to one. The new law goes into effect this December 2016.
This law is a major victory for parents and children in Pennsylvania. Divorce, as we have written here previously, is one of the most stressful times in the life of a family. It can be a time of uncertainty, anxiety, anger, fear and depression. Children may be confused and scared. A prolonged waiting period between unhappy parents can have serious detrimental effects upon spouses and the children who may bear witness to fighting and experience instability.
The original legislative intent behind a waiting period was for family reunification. Our lawmakers felt that a longer waiting period would encourage reconciliation. They respected keeping families together, and did not want to be quick to endorse family break up. In reality, their intention was not realized.
By the time one party makes the heart wrenching decision to consult an attorney and proceed with a divorce filing, the likelihood of a family reunification is almost nil. Indeed, among some couples the two year waiting period can be used for just opposite reasons. A recalcitrant or angry party may insist upon waiting two years for such destructive purposes as keeping an estranged spouse in limbo, for punishment and for financial pressure and advantage. In such situations a divorce can be prolonged for over two years, three years or even longer.
The reduction in waiting period for non-consensual divorces, should speed up the process, and reduce litigation. It should help bring clarity and closure to families in conflict. When children are involved, the spouses remain the children’s parents for life. Studies show that the more that can be done to reduce exposure to conflict for children, and increase cooperation between parents, the better it is ultimately for the health of the family unit. When divorce is inevitable, allowing the family to get to the end result quicker should help.
The revised waiting period law is prospective. This means that it applies only to cases filed after December 4, 2016. Whenever a law is changed issues around interpretation and application may arise. If you wish to discuss when to file your matter, or any other family law issue, please contact our offices in Media and Radnor, PA