Today our Pittsburgh family law lawyers are talking about the legal status of "legal separation" in Pennsylvania.
In some states, legal separation is a separate legal process that leads to the maintenance of the marriage but the division of assets and debts and the parties living in separate residences. In Pennsylvania, there is no process that culminates in "legal separation." Legal separation in this state occurs on the date of separation, which is a legal determination that marks the date that one party has conveyed to the other the intent to no longer be married. The date of legal separation is an important fact because it determines the date on which the value of most assets and debts will be reviewed for equitable distribution purposes. The date of legal separation is also the date from which time will elapse in a contested divorce. If one party does not consent to a divorce, the petitioning party has to wait two years from the date of legal separation before the divorce is allowed to move forward. This means that the date of legal separation is an important and heavily litigated legal fact.
The date of legal separation can be indicated in writing, through the filing of the divorce complaint, or by moving out of the marital residence, or in some rare instances, moving into different parts of the marital residence and ceasing marital relations. There may be certain circumstances wherein both parties would prefer to remain married, but live apart. If they still wanted to "legally separate," but not yet divorce, they could execute a marital separation agreement in preparation that would lay out the division of assets and the treatment in general of marital property.
You should know if you are planning on living apart from your spouse that there can be serious legal implications to the decision to move out of the marital residence before divorce. These implications can include, most importantly, diminished custody time with your children because Courts look at the status quo child custody schedule in place. The parent living with the children has a better chance at more substantial custody time. It could also potentially lead to a Motion for Exclusive Possession of the Marital Residence, which is not very common, but can occur when one party voluntarily leaves the home.
Contact our experienced family law attorneys today if you are considering separation or divorce!