Divorce is difficult. It can be painful, exhausting, debilitating, and expensive. In a no-fault divorce, instead of proving that one spouse is to blame, you merely tell the court that you and your spouse have “irreconcilable differences” or have suffered an “irremediable breakdown” of your relationship. When spouses don’t agree that it’s time for divorce, law requires a mandatory two-year waiting period before no-fault divorce grounds exist. In most counties across the commonwealth, the process doesn’t even begin before two years have elapsed. This marital limbo often jeopardizes the children, the family, and the well-being of the spouses.
If both spouses can agree that the marriage is over, they can proceed with a no-fault divorce by mutual consent. But if one spouse wishes to contest the divorce, the other spouse must wait a full two years before proceeding with a no-fault divorce. The last option is to file on the grounds that the other spouse did something to cause the marriage to fail. Examples of fault-based grounds for divorce include adultery, desertion and cruel treatment. Initially, the two-year waiting period was intended to enhance the opportunity for reconciliation. Realistically, however, reconciliation happens for reasons unrelated to this delay.
Many argue that the two-year waiting period places an unnecessary hardship on families already struggling with the emotional and financial challenges of divorce. Over the years, there has been much debate about the impact that a lengthy waiting time can have on children caught in the middle. Critics say that the two-year waiting period puts families in a prolonged state of limbo as they wait for a resolution to such critical matters as custody schedules, housing arrangements and school placement. The anxiety that these uncertainties can cause often hit children the hardest. It only adds up complications of property and divorce grounds issues, and prolonging litigation.
In Pennsylvania, it is proposed that the length of time for a unilateral no-fault divorce to reduce from two years to one year of separation. It was passed by the House on Nov. 9 and is expected to be introduced in the Senate for a vote. It should be approved and sent to the governor’s desk for his signature. This is a good piece of legislation that will help to ease the pain of protracted divorce for families.
A proposed amendment to the South Carolina constitution purports to change the waiting period for a no-fault divorce from 365 days to 150 days. Opponents argue that shortening the waiting period will lead to an increase in divorce, while proponents believe that the one year waiting period creates financial problems for couples and unneeded stress for children.
Virginia, by having waiting periods dependent upon whether minor children are involved, recognizes that divorce is more consequential if the spouses have minor children. Parental separation has many negative impacts on children, especially minor children. Requiring spouses who are raising children together to wait longer before ending their marriage offers greater protection to children from the disruption of divorce and discourages parents from giving up too easily on marriage.
A shorter waiting period for a no fault divorce is that it would reduce the level of conflict between spouse as well as the legal cost. It would also reduce burden on families of the spouse. Allowing the process to begin earlier will make it easier for each party to start planning for their financial future and to make permanent arrangements that will benefit the children.