With many countries and U.S. states, having divorce waiting periods, the District of Columbia’s recent legislation, which is reducing its waiting period, is big news. The D.C. Council gave unanimous approval to legislation that eliminated long waiting periods to file for divorce. The waiting period was considered especially harmful to survivors of domestic violence filing for divorce.
Waiting in Vain
D.C. law previously allowed a couple to divorce after six months of living separately, only if both parties mutually and voluntarily agreed to it. If a spouse contested the divorce, D.C. law required the couple to remain legally married for a year. Now if one spouse wants a divorce, they can file for one at any time — without any waiting period.
“It made no sense at all that someone might be chained to their abuser or their partner when they didn’t want to be. This was a common sense reform that allows people to move on with their lives and also provide some extra supports for survivors of domestic violence.”
The D.C. Council unanimously approved the bill in November 2023, and the new law took effect last week. The new D.C. law also requires judges to consider domestic violence history, including physical, emotional and financial abuse, when determining alimony or property distribution and it explicitly allows judges to award exclusive use of a family home to either spouse while awaiting litigation.
Florida Divorce Waiting Period
I’ve written about divorce waiting periods, and your rights in divorce before. Like the District of Columbia and other U.S. states, Florida also has a divorce waiting period of sorts. In Florida, no final judgment of dissolution of marriage may be entered until at least 20 days have elapsed from the date of filing the original petition for dissolution of marriage.
The thinking behind waiting periods in Florida reflects the protective regard Florida holds toward the preservation of marriage and a public policy that marriage is the foundation of home and family.
In some cases the waiting period is longer. For instance, no dissolutions in Florida are allowed in cases of an incapacitated spouse unless the party alleged to be incapacitated has been adjudged incapacitated for a preceding period of at least 3 years. However, the court, on a showing that injustice would result from this delay, may enter a final judgment of dissolution of marriage at an earlier date.
Tired of Waiting
This change to the D.C. law will eliminate one of the many barriers people face when leaving abusive partners. The up-to-one year waiting period, which was established in the 1970s, was considered by many to be outdated and paternalistic.
Half of all states have a waiting period between the filing of divorce papers and when the marriage is legally dissolved, which can range from six months to even longer in some states. But why?
It has long been a recognized public policy by many states that encouraging and preserving the institution of marriage was a societal benefit. These days that notion may seem like an anachronistic legal concept. But the public policy underlying the presumption that marriage is a good institution still exists in many state statutes. Delaying a divorce then, comes from the theory that a couple, if they had more time, could preserve their marriage.
The Washington Post article is here.