Date of Separation Has Big Impacts on a Pennsylvania Divorce
Your separation date places a mark on your marriage’s timeline. The dates establishing when marriage began and when separation occurred are the two marks that significantly impact whether property is marital or separate. The date you stopped acting as spouses also determines when you can file for a unilateral no-fault divorce.
If you are considering divorce, or have begun a DIY process, you will benefit from speaking with an attorney at Scaringi Law. Our comprehensive law firm has extensive experience providing legal counsel for all grounds of divorce in Pennsylvania. Even the most straightforward cases can hit snags that need a legal mind to help unwind.
Defining Marital Separation
Some states require spouses to live under different roofs to be considered separated. Other states also require couples to go through a legal separation process. Pennsylvania does neither of those.
Pennsylvania law defines the date of separation as the “cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not. In the event a complaint in divorce is filed and served, it shall be presumed that the parties commenced to live separate and apart not later than the date that the complaint was served.”
As long you and your spouse do not behave like a romantic couple, you can live in the same house. Financial limitations make that necessary in some situations.
Determining the Separation Date
Separation typically occurs when one spouse leaves their shared home with no intention of returning or when one spouse tells the other about their desire to end the marriage. Still, pinpointing the day of separation can be complicated.
Even if spouses physically live apart, the separation date can be voided if the two were intimate afterward.
When couples dispute the separation date, the judge will decide. The court will evaluate all the circumstances before ruling.
Separation Impacts No-Fault Divorce
A no-fault, unilateral divorce can only be filed in the Keystone State after a couple has been separated for at least one year.
Not all grounds for divorce require a separation period:
- Fault Divorce: Pennsylvania recognizes six fault grounds for divorce: desertion, adultery, cruelty, bigamy, imprisonment, and indignities. If the plaintiff proves their case to the judge, a divorce can be granted without a required separation period.
- Institutionalization Divorce. No additional separation is required if one spouse has been confined in a mental institution for at least 18 months before filing for divorce.
- Mutual Consent Divorce. If both parties agree to the divorce, the quickest divorce is for both spouses to sign an Affidavit of Consent and a Waiver of Notice. There is no separation period. This no-fault divorce requires the consent of both spouses.
- Separation Divorce: This no-fault divorce does not require the consent of both spouses. Once you have been separated for one year, you can file for divorce on this ground. An uncooperative spouse cannot stop you from filing a divorce action after being separated for a full year.
The one-year separation requirement was reduced from two years not too long ago. Before Dec. 5, 2016, a separation of two years was required before a spouse could file a unilateral no-fault divorce.
Your no-fault, consent divorce won’t be granted immediately. After you file for divorce and submit all required documents, there is a 90-day waiting period before your consent divorce can be finalized. There is no such waiting period for the separation divorce, provided both parties agree that you have been separated for the requisite period.
Separation Affects Equitable Distribution
The difference of a day, a week, or a month might not matter much in some divorces. In other cases, that distinction can greatly impact equitable distribution. One spouse might challenge the date of separation if it means they get more of the marital estate or less individual indebtedness.
Any property or debt acquired after the date of separation is generally that spouse's separate property. Separate property is not subject to division by the court. All real or personal property acquired by either party during the marriage, and prior to separation, is presumed to be marital property regardless of whether the property is in one or both spouses’ names.
Benefits of a Separation Agreement
A properly executed separation agreement can help establish the date of separation. However, the document is not necessarily full proof. If a couple continues to act as a married couple, the court could disregard the date listed in the agreement. No longer behaving as spouses along with a specific date listed on the agreement can solidify the separation date used to begin the one-year separation needed for a separation divorce. The date will also be used as a cut-off on what assets and debt should be considered marital.
A separation agreement has other advantages. The agreement can serve as a framework for your proposed divorce decree.
A separation agreement can include many of the elements found in a divorce agreement:
Understand Your Divorce Options in Pennsylvania
At Scaringi Law, we help clients resolve the elements of their divorce so they can begin their new life as quickly as possible. In addition to expediency, we safeguard their rights to ensure they have a strong foundation moving forward. We stay equally focused on the needs of today as well as the future.
Whether you and your spouse are on the same page or you are locked in a contested divorce, our know-how can guide you.
Schedule a consultation to learn more. Call (717) 775-7195 or complete our online form.