When clients come to me and tell me that they want a divorce, one of the first questions that they always ask is, "How long will it take?"
The answer is "it depends." The key factor is whether the other party in the marriage will readily agree to the divorce. If they will, the divorce often can proceed with relatively few obstacles. If the other spouse is unwilling to consent to the divorce, however, the process can take a lot longer - too long, in fact, which is just one reason that the divorce lawyers at Williams Family Law, P.C. support Pennsylvania House Bill 380.
Under current Pennsylvania domestic relations law, a party who files for a unilateral, no-fault divorce must wait two years from the date that their spouse is served with divorce papers before the divorce can proceed. Introduced in February 2015, HB 380 would reduce that two-year waiting period to one year, bringing Pennsylvania more into line with surrounding states, such as Delaware, New Jersey and New York, where the waiting period is six months.
The unnecessarily long two-year waiting period is harmful to divorcing couples and, very often, their children, accomplishing nothing but forcing a person who wants a divorce to unwillingly remain in a marriage they no longer support in word or deed. The system fosters delay that takes both an emotional and an economic toll on all parties involved.
In cases where the spouse is divorcing to get away from an abusive partner, the two-year waiting period subjects them to an additional twelve months of vulnerability to physical attacks, emotional manipulation, and financial peril. Even in less desperate circumstances, though, the wait places the divorcing spouses at greater opposition to one another, which hurts parental communication and often places children of the marriage in a state of fear and uncertainty. Simply stated, a two-year waiting period is far more likely to increase litigation than it is to facilitate the marital reconciliation many of its supporters claim it encourages.
Opponents to reducing the two-year waiting period claim that allowing a unilateral divorce to proceed after "only" one year comprises a "quick divorce." Others claim that halving the waiting period to a single year would somehow imperil Pennsylvania marriages or create an artificial incentive to divorce. None of these so-called reasonings is accurate.
Reducing Pennsylvania's waiting period for a unilateral, no-fault divorce from two years to one year is a good idea, which is why the Pennsylvania Bar Association supports the passage of House Bill 380. Members of the PBA's Family Law Section, of which I am a past chairman and an active member, spoke in Harrisburg on Sept. 29 to urge the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee to take action on the bill. Please join me in asking our state legislators to support and pass House Bill 380.