How legal separation works in Pennsylvania

| Jul 24, 2020 | Divorce |

Pennsylvania is a state that has no formal process for what is commonly called legal separation. If a couple wants to get a court order to end their marriage, then they have to be eligible for and obtain a divorce.

Under Pennsylvania law, a couple can each agree to a divorce because their relationship has broken down and, in their opinion, cannot be salvaged.

The waiting period for getting a divorce finalized in this situation is at least 90 days, although in practice dividing property, establishing custody and resolving other issues may take additional time.

However, if one spouse does not agree to a divorce, then a lengthy waiting period, of at least 1 year, may apply.

Specifically, with some exceptions, a court may need evidence that a couple has lived apart for 12 months, and thus are legally separated, before the court will have authority to grant a divorce and enter appropriate final orders.

Of course, during this time, residents of the Pittsburgh area are still going to need to support themselves and their children financially.

The problem is that, without a court order, it can be very hard for one spouse to get his or her financially affairs in order, particularly if the other spouse won’t cooperate.

A separation agreement as a temporary fix

Although courts cannot officially recognize legal separation, a couple who is living apart may still negotiate a separation agreement between themselves to cover the time in which they are awaiting a divorce.

A separation agreement, which some may refer to as a postnuptial agreement, can establish some ground rules as to who is paying what bills, who has the right to use what property, including the marital home, and the like. The agreement can also address child custody, child support, and alimony.

If it seems like a separation agreement is a good option, Wexford residents should remember that it is critical to put the agreement in writing and appropriately document it. Without documentation, a court has no power to enforce the contract; it also bears repeating that there is no formal legal separation process that a couple can rely on instead.

Permanent separation agreements

For a number of reasons, a couple may wish to remain legally married yet still want to live separate lives. Negotiating a separation agreement may be the best option for their doing so.

A separation agreement can last for as long as a couple wishes it to last and thus can prevent the couple needing to get a divorce in order to protect their rights.