Making The Divorce Process Easier For Victims Of Spousal Abuse

Pennsylvania allows parties to a divorce action to seek both no-fault and fault divorces. While fault remains available, the overwhelming majority of divorces are granted under no-fault grounds. The statutory framework for no-fault grounds for divorce are contained in 23 Pa.C.S. §3301(c) – mutual consent and §3301(d) – 2 year separation.

Grounds for divorce can be established under §3301(c) “where it is alleged that the marriage is irretrievably broken and 90 days have elapsed from the date of commencement of the action under this part and an affidavit has been filed by each of the parties evidencing that each of the parties consents to the divorce.”

On April 21, 2016, Governor Wolf signed House Bill 12 of 2015 which is designed to accelerate the establishment of grounds for divorce under §3301(c) in cases where one spouse has committed a “personal injury crime” against the other spouse. “Personal injury crimes” include the following: criminal homicide, assault, kidnapping, human trafficking, sexual offense, arson, robbery, victim/witness intimidation, homicide by vehicle and accident causing death or personal injury to the other spouse. These amendments will become law on or about June 20, 2016.

Essentially, the enactment of this legislation allows the victim spouse to establish divorce grounds under §3301(c) based on the “presumed” consent from the convicted spouse, whether they sign an affidavit or not. It is important to note that a spouse must be convicted of one of the enumerated offenses before their consent will be “presumed.”

While the legislation is certainly well intended and meant to assist those spouses who are the unfortunate victims of abuse and “personal injury crimes,” it is questionable as to whether it will achieve its intended result. For example, if the crime results in death to the victim spouse, a divorce at that point seems irrelevant. In addition, with the length of time criminal proceedings take for some of the crimes enumerated above, it is possible that grounds may be established by other means, especially in light of pending litigation which would lower the statutorily required waiting time to establish grounds under §3301(d) from two years to one year. Finally, there are fault grounds which would deal with these types of circumstances, although there are a whole other slew of additional issues created when a party seeks a fault based divorce.

While the question of how beneficial the “presumed consent” portion of this legislation will be is still in the air, there is an important additional aspect of the amendments that cannot be overlooked. Victim spouses, who have been granted an order for protection from abuse or are the victim of a “personal injury crime,” who might otherwise be subjected to attend three marital counseling sessions at the request of their spouse, will no longer be required to do so because of the amendments

It will be interesting to see how this law will ultimately be interpreted and its impact to those subjected to abuse or “personal injury crimes.”

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About Family Law Focus
The Family Law Focus blog provides highlights, updates and insights on complex family disputes including divorce, division of property, and alimony; child and spousal support; child custody; domestic violence; pre- and post-nuptial agreements; name changes; and adoption or termination of parental rights.
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The Editor

Attorney Jennifer A. Brandt, chair of Cozen O'Connor's Family Law practice, has represented a wide variety of clients in hundreds of family law cases in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Jennifer is a regular legal commentator on national and local television outlets such as CNN, Fox New Network, HLN, MSNBC, Fox29, ABC News, NBC and CBS and frequently writes and contributes to articles in numerous publications, including the Huffington Post, Fox, The PhiIly Post,,, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Business Journal, the National Law Journal, and Main Line Today magazine.
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