For many, many years, the plaintiff to a unilateral, no-fault divorce proceeding, as set forth under Section 3301(d) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code, had to wait no less than two years before he or she could request the entry of a final decree in divorce from his or her estranged spouse. Under such grounds, the plaintiff had to file a divorce complaint citing the marriage was irretrievably broken and an affidavit that the parties had lived “separate and apart” for no less than two years before a decree in divorce would be granted.
In October 2016, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf changed this requirement by signing House Bill 380, which later became known as Act 102 of 2016. The new law reduces the mandatory waiting period for unilateral, no-fault divorces, from two years, to one year. The new law became effective in December 2016 and is hoped to reduce the stress and financial strain experienced by both parties and their minor children during the statutory waiting period before a divorce becomes final.
All unilateral divorce pleadings filed after December 2016, citing irretrievable breakdown, will follow the new one year mandatory waiting period requirement, while divorce actions filed before December 2016, will still be required to wait two years until the entry of a divorce decree.
Under either separation period, living “separate and apart” does not mean that the parties reside in two separate households, although that is certainly the easiest way to prove separation. Couples who share the same address, but no longer enjoy sexual relations with one another, no longer share dinners together or perform household chores together, no longer enjoy family vacations together, and no longer hold themselves out to others as “a couple,” will be considered living “separate and apart” for unilateral, no-fault divorce purposes.
Cara A. Boyanowski concentrates her practice in the field of domestic law and wills and estates. As a domestic law practitioner, she represents clients in simple and complex divorce, support, custody, alimony, step-parent adoptions, name change and same-sex divorce and custody matters. She works out of Obermayer’s Harrisburg, PA office and can be reached at 717-234-5315 or at Cara.Boyanowski@obermayer.com.