Our colleagues at the Pennsylvania Bar News have recently covered some important developments in the realm of family law – pending legislation that, if passed, will significantly reduce the time it takes estranged spouses to legally divorce.
House Bill 380 is the legislation at issue and aims to cut in half the statutory waiting period from 2 years to 1.
The practical reasons for reducing the mandatory waiting period in Pennsylvania for this type of divorce are many. As proponent of the Bill and member of the PBA’s Family Law Task Force on Bill 380, Maryann Q. Modesti, has pointed out, some of the benefits of new law would be: 1. hastening the resolution of divorce relieves not only a strain on court dockets but on the personal stresses that come with the process; 2. enabling the courts “to address families’ challenges with physical-custody arrangements and co-parenting”; 3. “In the case of couples likely to reconcile, shortening the…litigation phase…[thereby] reducing the need for either party to make hostile accusations or use costly litigation as an impetus for settlement…”
No doubt, the prospect of the passage of Bill 380 comes as a blessed relief to many Pennsylvania residents now in or considering divorce proceedings based on separation. A comparative study conducted by Bloomberg indicates that Pennsylvania ranks among the most difficult states in which to obtain a divorce (40 out of 50). Compared with a state like New Hampshire, which imposes no minimum waiting time on divorce and recognizes residency (a pre-requisite for filing) upon arrival in that state, Pennsylvania has long been viewed as downright Draconian in this regard. See Bloomberg Ranking here
The statute that Bill 380 would amend is 3301(d) of the Pennsylvania Code. A look at the statute reveals that the extraordinarily long 2-year waiting period is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many procedural hurdles that parties may face when seeking a divorce under this section. For instance, as stated by 3301(d)(2)(ii), despite the elapse of 2 years, a court may still, should a Defendant assert that the marriage is not “irretrievably broken”, rule that the parties must make effort to reconcile difference and delay the waiting period even further by holding hearings on such reconciliation.
Further, concerning the required filings that comprise a 3301(d) divorce, Pa. Code Rule 1920.42 shows that a fair amount of proficiency in civil procedure is required: 1. the Complaint must be filed with a count of “irretrievable breakdown of the relationship” and certified service of same must be made on Defendant; 2. that filing must be accompanied by affidavit; 3. the Plaintiff must serve Defendant with blank counter-affidavit; 3. the Plaintiff must also serve a “notice of intent to request entry of divorce decree” on Plaintiff OR both parties must sign a waiver of such notice; 4. If no waiver is signed, the Plaintiff must wait at least 20 days after providing the counter-affidavit and the notice of intent [in which time the Defendant may Answer] before Plaintiff may motion the court to execute a divorce decree, by a praecipe to transmit.
As all the foregoing shows, the entire process is often times intimidating to would be pro-se litigants and virtually screams “I need a lawyer, stat!” And yes, an oversight or failure in proper procedure can delay the 3301(d) process even more, or worse, give the other party time and thought to put up a fight where he or she may not have done so otherwise.
Bill 380 is probably a logical step if among the goals of effective laws should be the reduction of time and expense. Granted, Pennsylvania will probably never become a New Hampshire but Bill 380 seems certain to be a game changer.