Seth Eric Springer, Esq.
Does PA Require Separation Before Divorce?
In Pennsylvania, a couple is not required to gain court approval for their separation. In short, both parties are free to contract privately on their own for the separation at any time they want.
A couple who struggles in a marriage usually decides to separate before or instead of divorce. This is also the case for those that cheat in a marriage, since adultery is known to affect divorce cases of many American marriages. In most cases, separation serves as a slower adjustment toward the potential living arrangements for the family or a cooling-off period due to communication issues.
Pennsylvania considers a separation agreement as a legally-binding civil contract between the separating couple. Spouses can resolve several matters, such as debts, property division, and child and spousal support, when they agree that the separation takes place or they separate from each other.
Here are the things that may be included in a separation agreement:
· Loans and other debts
· Health insurance coverage
· If children are involved, who will take the tax deduction
· If one spouse is due any joint refund type like a tax refund, how they will be split
· Who will remain in the marital home
· Who is responsible for the joint bills
Why Date of Separation Matters
The separation date is vital for two reasons:
· It establishes a cut off date for acquiring marital assets and accumulating marital debt
· It starts the clock for the specific mandatory waiting periods to obtain a divorce
The legal separation date is established in different ways, but the most definitive method is to file a divorce complaint. The court presumes that the separation date is the date for filing the divorce complaint unless one spouse can establish an alternative date.
In Pennsylvania, the separation date is determined when spouses stop acting like a married couple, including moving out, sleeping in separate rooms, dating other people, separating bank accounts, etc. With a separation agreement, a separating couple can clearly show the date of separation. However, it is not conclusive proof that they have been living separately and are officially separated in the eyes of the law.
Is Spouse Required to have a Separation Agreement by the Law?
Pennsylvania may not require separating spouses to execute an agreement; it is still a wise idea if property, support claims, children, or debts are involved. A separation agreement is also recommended if both parties want to settle those things in writing with a legally binding document. Oral promises between them have no value in the court and are unenforceable.
When preparing a separation agreement, it is best to hire a divorce lawyer in York PA. That agreement is invalid unless the separating spouses have signed and their signatures are notarized.
Meanwhile, a separation agreement can help the separating couple to make decisions about:
· Health insurance
· Division of property
· Custody and visitation
· Child support
· Alimony/Spousal support
Can Separating Spouses Divide Their Property in the Separation Agreement?
A separating couple can agree on the division of property in the separation agreement. In most cases, the type of property being divided consists of real property (land and buildings on it), intangible personal property (life insurance, vested pensions, stocks and bonds, and bank accounts), and tangible property (furniture, jewelry, car, house).
Is One Spouse Required to Sign the Separation Agreement
Remember that “agreement” means that both parties must sign voluntarily, so the answer is no. One spouse cannot compel the other spouse to sign the separation agreement or agree to the terms he/she imposed on him/her in the agreement.
If both parties do not agree on any or all the terms of the separation agreement, employing the services of an attorney is recommended. That way, they can reach a fair agreement.
Can the Court Modify the Separation Agreement Terms Concerning the Separating Couples?
The court cannot modify the terms included in the separating agreement concerning the spouses, except in limited circumstances. For example, suppose the agreement is not merged into the court decree despite being incorporated therein. In that case, the court can modify the terms for alimony based on the circumstantial changes as long as the alimony is stated as modifiable.
Overall, Pennsylvania does not require a waiting period before filing for a divorce. However, the separating couple must establish a date of separation. Plus, working with an experienced attorney is advantageous. Having a good lawyer can also help with other issues such abandonment in a marriage.