On October 4, Governor Wolf signed Act 102 of 2016, cutting the mandatory separation period for a no-fault divorce in half. When the law becomes effective on December 3, 2016, the wait time for a divorce when a partner refuses consent will be reduced from two years to one year. The reduction from two years to one year will only apply to periods of living separate and apart that commence after December 3, 2016.
State representative Tarah Toohil of Luzerne County, who sponsored the bill, said she was concerned for children caught in the middle of a divorce. She cited housing, schooling, and custody issues affecting children’s lives that could be more quickly resolved with a one-year separation period. She added that “The shorter waiting period allows the couple’s financial situation to be resolved more quickly and at less expense, so they can tend to their children’s well-being.”
Advocates of the shorter separation time maintain that a long mandatory wait before divorce doesn’t help people to reconcile. In fact, they point out that some spouses would use the two year mandated wait time to try to intimidate the spouse seeking a divorce into agreeing to more onerous financial settlements in order to obtain a divorce sooner. The Pennsylvania Bar Association supports the reduced wait time, saying that it will allow a greater focus on custody matters. The Family Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association has been working to decrease the wait time since 2001, believing that it will help to settle issues impacting children’s security and stability.
Opponents of the one year separation period say that it might hurt dependent spouses, who will have less time to start new lives and less time to benefit from interim financial benefits, such as continuing health insurance and support payments. Financially dependent spouses automatically receive support during the mandatory separation period. Once a divorce is granted, alimony is not automatically granted.
Jones, Gregg domestic relations attorney Kurt Mulzet understands why “To some, a one year waiting period may seem too short. But, after practicing family law for 35 years, I have learned that by the time a client has summoned the courage to walk through the door of my office, they have already waited, deliberated and sometimes suffered over the decision they have made to go forward with their lives. For them, in most cases, the one year waiting period will have become a formality.”
In 1980, when no-fault divorce first became available in Pennsylvania, the mandatory separation time was three years. In 1988, the wait time was lessened to two years. With the advent of Act 102, Pennsylvania’s wait time is more in line with surrounding states, who require wait times of six months to one year. This type of separation divorce, when one of the parties refuses to sign an affidavit consenting to the divorce, is only one type of no-fault divorce available in Pennsylvania.
If a couple agrees to divorce by mutual consent, a divorce is obtainable after 90 days from service of a divorce complaint. During the waiting period, attorneys have the opportunity to work out a written settlement agreement concerning custody, support, alimony, and property distribution.
Please contact our domestic relations attorneys if you have questions about the changed separation period for a no-fault divorce, support, alimony, custody, or other family issues.