The waiting period for a contested divorce in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recently changed from two years to one year. From a divorce lawyer's perspective, what's the difference?
Besides the obvious (i.e. a spouse who doesn't want a divorce can't delay it for as long), a noteworthy implication is the shortened time during which a lesser earning spouse can now receive alimony pendente lite (APL). APL is the support that a spouse receives during the pendency of a divorce action. APL is meant to even the playing field, so to speak, while a divorce is happening, and to provide interim support for a spouse who may need it while the divorce is taking its course. It stands to reason that the longer a divorce takes, the longer a spouse may receive this interim award. If a divorce waiting period is one year from the date of separation instead of two, then the period that a spouse can receive APL shrinks as well. This could mean less support for a spouse who intentionally delays the divorce action.
Although the word "alimony" appears in the phrase, and although the effect of APL is similar (it's a payment from a spouse to a spouse), it's quite different in many respects. For one, it's calculated differently. With some exceptions and deviations, it's calculated based on a percentage of the difference between the net earnings of spouses without respect to many of the factors that a Court must consider in awarding alimony, like some types of fault and future life considerations. Because it's an interim award, APL is hard to change during the time the divorce is pending, and few exceptions to the rule are considered. And because it's primarily percentage-based, it can be awarded in situations where a spouse may not really need it, and may not really have a chance of receiving actual alimony when the divorce is final.
A shortened waiting period allows contested divorces to reach the Court's judges or hearing officers sooner, thus giving them the power to determine whether the interim award of APL should stand and continue "as-is" as the alimony award, or whether it should be raised, lowered, stepped-down, or eliminated based on other factors that were not previously considered for APL.