State Rep. eyes divorce law rewrite

State Rep. Kristine Howard, D-Malvern, is pictured taking the oath of office in 2023.

State Rep. Kristine Howard, D-Malvern, tried once already this year to rewrite Pennsylvania’s divorce laws.

She’s trying again.

“Earlier this session, I introduced HB1120, a bill intended to dramatically streamline the divorce process,” Howard wrote in a recently filed co-sponsorship memorandum.

“After receiving substantial stakeholder feedback, and working closely with experts on the issue, I have rewritten the bill, and will soon introduce the new, more perfect, version. This new version further streamlines the process, and will also allow the minor courts to grant uncontested and simple divorces, thereby relieving the Court of Common Pleas of a substantial burden.”

Howard’s efforts began in earnest in 2023 over what she said are state laws that create barriers to divorce that include excessive fees and presenting cases to the state Court of Common Pleas. Some divorces, she said, can take between two or three years. In 2016, the state Legislature passed a law that decreased the waiting period from two years to one year in divorce cases.

A divorce in Pennsylvania can be at-fault or no-fault, with no-fault cases based on mutual consent, separation or institutionalization in which neither side has to prove who is at fault. There are multiple grounds for no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania, each with its own waiting period. In a no-fault divorce, each spouse has to file an affidavit that affirms consent to a divorce, with a 90-day waiting period before mutual consent divorces are granted. In a no-fault divorce in which the couple is separated, parties must have lived apart for a year or more, agree that the marriage is irrevocably broken down and, even then, the court may impose a period of reconciliation and counseling. In institutionalization cases when one of the spouses is confined in a mental health facility, one member of the marriage has to be institutionalized 18 months before divorce can be filed, and the spouse has to be declared insane or have a serious mental disorder that prompted confinement. .

At-fault divorces can be granted if one person in the marriage deserts the household for at least one year, if one party commits adultery, if there is cruelty or barbarous treatment, if one spouse commits bigamy, if one member of the marriage is imprisoned for two or more years after committing a crime, or another “indignity” that makes life burdensome and intolerable.

“Pennsylvania’s current divorce law is a disgrace,” Howard wrote in her co-sponsorship memorandum. “Couples wishing to divorce must navigate a legal code established for the express purpose of preventing divorce. … All of this despite the fact that marriage is a contract entered into freely and, in Pennsylvania, more easily than almost any other state. Current law makes it substantially harder to end a marriage than any other contract, and exponentially more difficult than creating the contract in the first place. This is a legal absurdity, one that keeps people in bad marriages and prevents them from remarrying as their prior relationships remain in legal limbo.”


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