Separation is one of the no-fault grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania. A no-fault divorce simply means there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Grounds for a divorce can be established if a one year separation period is established. One party would need to file an affidavit of separation setting forth the separation date. This affidavit is to be served on the other party along with a counter-affidavit. If no objection is made by the other party the date of separation as stated in the initial affidavit is accepted.
To move forward with a no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania, the parties need only allege an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage" and either consent to the divorce after a 90-day period or establish 2-year separation. A no-fault divorce can also be obtained if one of the spouses is institutionalized for a period of 18 months provided they will likely still be institutionalized 18 months following the commencement of the divorce. No-fault divorce became available in Pennsylvania in 1980 when the Divorce Code was revised. Originally, a separation period of three years was required but that has since been reduced to the two year separation period currently required. Recently, there was a legislative push to further reduce the separation period to only one year.
Earlier this year a bill was introduced to the Pennsylvania General Assembly which would affect the Divorce Code. House Bill 380 proposes amending Section 3301(d) of the Divorce Code to allow divorce on the basis of separation for a one year period as opposed to the current law which requires a two year separation period. Representative Tara Toohil proposed the bill and cites several reasons for the change. First, reducing the duration for divorce will reduce the turmoil for minor children. There is consensus in the psychological field that continued conflict of the parents is the primary influence on the well-being, or lack thereof, of the children. Second, longer divorces allow for additional litigation and prolonged emotional strain. The third reason offered in support of the bill is the lack of any economic benefit by continuing with a two year separation period. For example, any alimony award will generally be reduced by the period of support received while the divorce was pending such that there is no benefit to a longer separation period.
The divorce rate reached an all time high in the 1970's due to the introduction of no-fault divorce. A no-fault divorce meant that the parties could get a divorce without having to prove any wrong-doing in court. Essentially, all the parties have to do for a no-fault divorce is indicate the marriage is over. Prior to the influx of no-fault divorce, parties had to prove that the requirements for a fault divorce were met. Fault grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania include desertion, adultery, cruel and barbarous treatment, bigamy, imprisonment, and indignities. The majority of divorces will go through on the basis of no-fault since it is easier to litigate and often times there is no benefit in the outcome of the divorce to pursuing a fault ground for a divorce.