Separation vs. Divorce in Pennsylvania

We often get questions about separation vs divorce in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania law provides options for several types of divorce, but technically speaking, there is no provision for a “legal separation.” When a couple decides to separate – that is, to live separate and apart and as if they weren’t married – they can settle property division, support, and custody issues in a property settlement agreement.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Vital Statistics, there were 32,985 divorces in Pennsylvania in 2019; however, these numbers don’t consider how many people are living separate and apart while married. In other words, because Pennsylvania does not have a “legal separation” status, these statistics only consider how many couples have finalized a divorce. These statistics do not contemplate separation vs divorce.

Separation vs Divorce: Difference Between Separation and Divorce in PA

Many states recognize legal separation as a marital status, which affords those couples certain rights. Pennsylvania, however, only recognizes single, married, and divorced as marital statuses.

Separation itself is an important element of divorce law, though.  The date a couple separates is of key importance during divorce proceedings. For instance, one of the ways a spouse can seek divorce is on the grounds that the couple has been living “separate and apart” for at least one year. So really, it’s not a question of separation vs divorce. Rather separation is a part of divorce.

Because separation is a factor in divorce, the statutes provide a legal definition for “separate and apart” in 23 Pa. C.S.A § 3103, which reads: “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.”

Using a Separation Agreement in Pennsylvania

There are many instances in which a spouse may want or need to be “separated”, such as:

  • while awaiting a divorce to finalize;
  • out of spite, to drag it out or prevent the other party from moving on; or
  • wanting a “cool down” period in order to see if reconciliation is possible before filing for divorce.

Some couples stay separated for years and remain legally married. They might do this for strategic reasons, to receive benefits, or simply for the sake of ease.

For instance, Warren Buffet separated from his wife in 1977 but never sought divorce for reasons that are unclear. He and his wife remained friends until she died in 2004, reports The New York Times. Although not commonplace, couples can stay separated for the long haul.

In many cases of separation vs divorce, you may wish to stay separated long-term.

Separation vs Divorce: Property Settlement Agreements in Pennsylvania

However long a couple may wish to stay separated, it still becomes important for them to make a plan for how they will take care of the important matters that married couples deal with.

The couple can have an attorney draw up a property settlement agreement or post-nuptial agreement in order to make decisions about:

  • mutual property;
  • child custody; and
  • visitation.

In the settlement agreement, the couple can also include details pertaining to child support and spousal support. Once signed by the court, separation agreements are binding documents and are difficult to modify.

If you are in the midst of a separation, an attorney will draw up and file the agreement for you to ensure its handled correctly and that you fully understand its contents. You don’t want to inadvertently thwart your rights to important provisions.

Alternatives to the Courtroom

Divorce mediation is a popular option for couples seeking a private, efficient resolution to potentially contentious issues. Each party should retain his or her own legal counsel to act as their advocate, whether these decisions are made inside or outside of a courtroom.


Pennsylvania Counties Served

With three offices in Pennsylvania, we are close to you no matter where you are. Typically, our PA divorce lawyer services the following counties:

  • Carbon County Divorce Lawyer
  • Lehigh County Divorce Lawyer
  • Monroe County Divorce Lawyer
  • Northampton County Divorce Lawyer

If your county is not listed, call us. While these are the counties we typically serve, we’ve handled cases in other counties upon request.

Our Pennsylvania divorce attorneys can help with separation vs divorce

The results of your divorce will impact your life for years to come. It is important to have realistic expectations and confidence in our ability to get you what you deserve. We will make sure you do not overreach and you do not get pushed around. When you are considering separation vs divorce, you need our Pennsylvania divorce attorneys.

Give us a call to schedule a consultation or reach out to your closest office: