Trying to understand the process of separation and divorce can be confusing and overwhelming. During a time that may be emotionally taxing and stressful, having a competent and experienced family law attorney who specializes in divorce law in your corner can make the process less complicated for you and your family.
How does legal separation work?
Technically, there is no such thing as a legal separation in Pennsylvania. Spouses are not required to gain court approval for a separation, and marriages can only be dissolved by divorce. However, the date of your separation does impact marital property, assets and debts. The date of separation also affects the timing of when a divorce can be finalized without a spouse’s consent.
Pennsylvania Divorce Code specifies that your separation begins when you stop living together as spouses. This does not mean that you must live apart in separate households; it simply indicates that you are no longer living as partners and are leading separate lives. When you have been apart for one year, separation becomes a no-fault ground for divorce, even if one person doesn’t want the divorce.
Although The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not distinguish legal separation under the law, it does recognize the concept of separation. If you and your spouse agree to the terms of a separation in writing, the state will consider it a legally binding civil contract. Both parties must sign the agreement voluntarily and it needs to be notarized to be considered valid. The scope of such an agreement is similar to a divorce decree, but it is typically more flexible.
A separation agreement can resolve such matters as division of property, marital debt, custody, plus spousal and child support. The terms of an agreement that pertain to children, such as child support and custody, can be modified by the court in the best interests of the children, but all other terms typically cannot be modified by the court. You can designate whether certain terms of the agreement will be permanent or can be renegotiated for the terms of your final divorce decree.
It is best to have divorce lawyers who are well-versed in Pennsylvania law prepare this complex contract for you. If you and your spouse cannot agree on all the terms of the agreement, an experienced attorney may also be able to help you reach a resolution without having to litigate your divorce in a lengthy court battle.
No-Fault Option for Divorce
There is also a no-fault option for divorce in Pennsylvania. If you both want to get divorced without a one-year waiting period of separation, you can file on the grounds that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” If you come to an agreement on all issues and both parties sign an affidavit of consent, you can typically be divorced in under a year.
We Can Help
Every divorce case is different, and depending on the complexities of your case, finalization can take from a few months to years. Our knowledgeable and skilled lawyers in West Chester, Chester County and Delaware County can assess your situation and craft a separation agreement that will work for you, or help you with negotiations and divorce procedures if need be.