“Why Can’t Things Just Stay the Same?” by Barbara J. Shah, Esquire

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I have been practicing primarily Family Law for more than 30 years.  When I first began my law practice, the “new” Divorce Code of 1980 was still trying to be understood by the PA populace.  Until then, the only way it was possible for a couple to get a divorce in PA, the “innocent and injured spouse” had to filed a divorce complaint listing the terrible things his or her spouse had done to make the marriage final, then there had to be a trial on these issues, and the court would enter a divorce decree. Many Pennsylvanians had been living separate and apart for many years, resigned to the fact that, if they were not the “innocent and injured spouse,” they could not get a divorce from their former loved one.   Suddenly in 1980, the floodgates opened.  As originally written, the law granted the right for a “guilty” spouse who had been living separate and apart for 3 years or more to request a divorce from the “innocent” spouse by filing an affidavit alleging a 3 year or more separation, and serving it on the other spouse.  Suddenly there was no defense to the divorce, and the best thing the defendant/spouse could do was to request from the court a fair property distribution and some alimony.  For others just then separating couples, it gave the left-behind spouse a 3-year window to get ready for the divorce.   In 1987, the law was changed to turn the 3-year separation requirement into a 2-year separation.  By 2016 it left PA one of the few states in the US with a long separation requirement, possibly the longest one.  However, in 2016, the PA legislature again changed the law to allow a party to request a divorce from the spouse after only a 1-year separation.  What this means is that if you were the left-behind spouse, and for some reason had no idea it was coming, you have a year to cope with the anger, frustration, and fear, let alone the financial adjustment, before grounds for a divorce have been established.  Sadly enough, this is a very difficult process for many of them.  Whether the marriage was a short one or a long one, the shock of your spouse telling you they are leaving and want a divorce is often extreme.  Why me?  We made promises to love and cherish each other for the rest of our lives, and here my spouse is leaving me.  Why can’t things just stay the same?

I have learned that the answer to this question is a painful one.  My husband of nearly 55 years passed away a few months ago. At first I was extremely sad, wondering why I had to go through this, it was unfair.  Slowly I have come to the realization that sad events will happen to us throughout our lives, and the way we deal with them will set the tone for how we deal with others.  I have my adult children and my grandchildren.  I have friends.  I have clients.  I had to pick myself up and stop feeling sorry for myself and begin to make a life that was entirely different from before.  Of course, I wish things could stay the same, but they cannot.  I have accepted that and look forward to good times with my family and friends in the future.  And you can too.

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