For some victims of domestic violence, leaving their abuser can become a legal and financial nightmare. A divorce case may drag on, with the abusive spouse refusing to agree to the divorce and prolonging the case in order to maintain control over his/her victim. In Pennsylvania, all of that is about to change with a new law that will assume consent to a divorce under certain circumstances.
House Bill 12, which was signed into law on April 24, 2016, creates an additional ground for divorce and assumes the consent of the party if he or she (1) has been convicted, (2) entered a guilty or no content plea, or (3) has been accepted into a rehabilitation program due to committing a personal injury crime against the other party. This includes crimes such as homicide, assault, kidnapping or human trafficking. Importantly, the new law also bars courts from ordering marriage counseling under these circumstances or if one party has a protection from abuse order against the other party. You can read the full text of this new law here.
While we don’t yet know how this law will be applied, in theory in should allow for quicker divorces in cases involving domestic violence. This is incredibly important for victims who can’t afford to pay for a lengthy divorce process if their spouse refuses to agree to a divorce, or who simply want to be able to move forward with their lives after being physically abused. It will also prevent abusers from using the legal system to maintain power and control over their victims, such as by requesting marriage counseling and drawing out the divorce process. We applaud the Pennsylvania legislature and Governor Wolf for taking this important step to protect victims of domestic violence!