“I WANT A DIVORCE! (OR DO I?)” by Barbara J. Shah, Esquire

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Most people have heard the old saw, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” Surprisingly enough, there are those who divorce in haste and repent it later. Pennsylvania is one of the last bastions of the long wait for a divorce, when one spouse resists it. In the absence of consent, the waiting period prescribed by PA law is 2 years from the date of “final separation,” which is defined by PA statute and caselaw. If both parties consent to the divorce, the waiting period is 90 days, pretty much in line with the rest of the country. When I started practicing law in the early 1980’s shortly after the passage of the PA Divorce Code of 1980, the waiting period was three years! That was reduced to 2 years by an amendment to the divorce code in 1987. There are numerous calls to reduce the 2-year waiting period, to 18 months, one year, or even 6 months, and bills to lessen the waiting period are introduced every session, but so far none of them has gained traction in PA’s bloated legislature. There is no question that the Catholic Church has had an influence on PA divorce legislation in the past; whether that will continue in the future is uncertain. However, the central part of PA is very conservative, so I wouldn’t bet that the law is going to change very soon. In fact, I hope it does not.

Why should people be forced to wait such a long time if they want to move on with their lives? The answer is elusive, but here is my point of view on the subject: People enter into marriage with the implicit and explicit understanding that this union of two people is forever; two bodies, one soul, one family unit. Many stresses occur which may cause the union to falter, but are or should these stresses be fatal to the marriage? Mind you, I am not one of those people who would have supported the continuance of PA’s fault-only divorce which existed before 1980. That led to all kinds of perversion of the law which weren’t good for anyone. However, what is wrong with a 2-year wait for a “no-fault” divorce? It is a great cooling-off period which gives the parties time to reflect and make sure that a divorce is really what they wanted. Does he or she have a hot-and-heavy relationship with another that may cool during this 2-year wait? Well, then, that relationship is not one for the ages. Well, what if your spouse is a real louse, abusive, etc.? There are several answers. First of all, just separate. Move out. If your spouse makes more money than you, file for support. If you make more money than your spouse, you have a defense to spousal support – abuse! Getting a divorce cuts you off from your spouse’s health insurance; in the past, before the ACA, that was extremely important, sometimes crucial, if you had a pre-existing condition. Second, PA still has fault divorces; if you really want a divorce and you have grounds for a fault divorce, (and a divorce makes economic sense to you), go for it! However, let me suggest that you use at least some of the 2-year “cooling off” period thoughtfully provided for PA citizens by its legislature. I won’t say that a high percentage of our cases reconcile during this period, but we’ve seen some amazing turn-arounds, some from sobriety, others from counseling, and others from the parties living apart realizing that the grass may really not be greener on the other side. Even infidelity sometimes turns out to be forgivable, under the appropriate circumstances.

Divorce may end up being the best option, but other options should at least be considered. Don’t rush into a divorce blindly in a fit of anger; it may lead to a lifetime of regret.

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