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 private civil agreement.
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 two years.
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
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.
Civil Agreement to Legalize Settlement
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 civil agreement to legalize their settlement in order to make decisions about:
- mutual property;
- child custody; and
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.
Our Pennsylvania Attorneys Can Help
For counsel about your legal options surrounding divorce or separation, or for help in drafting a separation agreement, contact our team at ARM Lawyers.
We have offices in three prime locations for your convenience: Stroudsburg (570-257-4509), Palmerton (484) 765-8140, or Bethlehem (610) 849-2788. Get on the phone with an attorney today for help with your divorce or separation. We offer free, no-obligation consultations.