Earlier this year, Liz Mandarano, a family law attorney and columnist for the Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com) reported on the introduction of state legislative bills in Nebraska and Wyoming which would make pre-divorce marriage counseling mandatory in their respective states. The bills, in essence, require a divorcing couple to make an attempt at reconcililation before they could proceed with a divorce, especially in instances where children are involved. The Wyoming bill went a little further in requiring pre-marital counseling unless the coupled wanted to wait a year before they could marry.
Incidentally, Pennsylvania law has a counseling provision as well, but it is surprisingly easy to overlook, despite it being front and center on divorce complaints. The often glossed over language is contained in the notice section of every divorce complaint filed in Pennsylvania. This language – often all capitalized to emphasize importance – states that, “[when] the ground for divorce is indignities or irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, you may request marriage counseling. A list of marriage counselors is available in the Family Court Office, [County Courthouse], Pennsylvania.” The notice is required under the Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1920.45; 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3302 lists the grounds upon which a request for counseling can be made: indignities (Section 3301(a)(6)); irretrievable breakdown by mutual consent (Section 3301(c)); irretrievable breakdown by two years of separation (Section 3301(d); and “where the Court determines that there is a reasonable prospect of reconciliation.”
Pennsylvania’s statute allows for counseling upon the request of a party, but may also require it where “the parties have at least one child under 16 years of age.” See, Section 3302(c). Like most statutes, case law has shaped the interpretation of the law and a 2003 Superior Court case found that “the trial court was not required by statute to order marriage counseling requested by husband as a prerequisite to granting divorce; parties had no children and the trial court found no chance for reconciliation in the marriage. Rich v. Acrivos, 815 A.2d 1106 (Pa.Super. 2003).
Many times people are served with divorce complaints and, even when they know to expect it, can be overwhelmed by the language and contents; they may not even be aware that the option for counseling exists. Unfortunately, by the time a divorce complaint is filed a couple may be beyond the help of counseling, but reconciliations do happen and people do back away from divorce even after a complaint has been filed.