Appeal from the Order Entered on February 21, 1985 in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Civil Division, No. 83-16379
Stephen H. Silverman, Jenkintown, for appellant.
Edward F. Kane, Norristown, for appellee.
Cavanaugh, McEwen and Cercone, JJ.
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This is an appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, issued February 21, 1985, which granted appellee's Petition for Bifurcation*fn1 and which decreed the parties to be divorced.
Appellant first argues that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to hear the issues in this case because of her pending bankruptcy proceedings.*fn2 She argues that the automatic stay provision of the Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. § 362(a)(1),*fn3 precludes a state court from ruling on a divorce
[ 349 Pa. Super. Page 426]
petition against a debtor unless the non-debtor spouse has petitioned the bankruptcy court for, and received, relief from the automatic stay provision pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 362(d). This issue appears to be one of first impression in this court. Therefore, we will look to general principles of law and to decisions of the federal bankruptcy court.
From an historical point of view, the consummation and dissolution of marriages has always been treated as a matter which is quite properly reserved to the states. See Barber v. Barber, 21 How. 582, 62 U.S. 582, 16 L.Ed. 226 (1859). This issue was clearly dealt with in In re Cunningham, 9 B.R. 70 (1981), wherein the bankruptcy court dismissed a petition requesting relief from the automatic stay provision and, thus, allowing the parties to continue with divorce proceedings. The court held that a federal bankruptcy court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the divorce petition itself and, therefore, the request for relief was not pertinent. The Cunningham court noted, however, that, "The denial of jurisdiction over the divorce petition itself is not to deny jurisdiction over the property of the divorce proceeding when one of the parties is a debtor in bankruptcy, In re Benavidez, No. 80-166J (D.N.M., June 3, 1980)." 9 B.R. at 71. See also Schulze v. Schulze, 15 B.R. 106 (1980). The bankruptcy court is in a much better position to interpret the meaning of the bankruptcy code than is this court. We find its determination as to its lack of subject matter jurisdiction in the divorce proceedings, within the historical view, persuasive. Accordingly, we find that the trial court did not err in exercising its jurisdiction over the divorce proceeding below.
Appellant next argues that the lower court abused its discretion in granting appellee's petition to bifurcate the divorce proceeding from the resolution of economic matters. This court's opinion in Wolk v. Wolk, 318 Pa. Superior Ct. 311, 464 A.2d 1359 (1983), is the seminal case which sets the
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parameters on the trial court's discretion when deciding a bifurcation ...