House approves Schlossberg bill to protect domestic violence victims seeking divorce

HARRISBURG, Nov. 9 – The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has approved a bill introduced by state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, that would help protect abused spouses seeking divorce.

Under current law, a divorce may be granted in 90 days if both spouses agree to the divorce. If both spouses do not agree, there is a two-year waiting period, and the court may impose up to three counseling sessions. Schlossberg said this is particularly troubling in cases where an abused spouse is seeking to escape a domestic violence situation.

"If the abuser does not consent to the divorce, his or her victim is essentially trapped," Schlossberg said. "An abusive spouse may use current law as a way to drag out the divorce process by choosing to withhold consent.

"This puts an abused spouse in a precarious position. It forces him or her into multiple years and multiple contacts with the abuser, bringing up painful memories of the abuse and causing further emotional torment. My bill would let an abused spouse obtain a divorce as if both sides consented to the divorce."

Schlossberg's bill (H.B. 12) would enable someone whose spouse had been convicted of certain personal injury crimes against him or her to use that crime as grounds for divorce and for the divorce to occur in 90 days.

His proposal also would prevent judges from ordering counseling if an abused spouse had a protection from abuse order or had been the victim of a personal injury crime by the other spouse.

"We need to amend Pennsylvania’s divorce laws to better empower victims of domestic violence," Schlossberg said. "No victim should be legally forced into staying in an abusive marriage. My bill is a simple and meaningful way to prevent that." 

Schlossberg's bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

This is the second bill Schlossberg has advanced to help victims avoid their perpetrator of crimes. On Oct. 1, the governor signed into law Schlossberg's proposal closing a loophole that potentially forces a woman to see her rapist if the woman is receiving financial support from her attacker. That law takes effect in December.