How Do I Figure Out My Exact Date of Separation?

November 08, 2017 | Divorce, Legal Perspective

Icon for author Stephanie Jablon Stephanie Jablon

In Pennsylvania divorce actions, the date of separation is not always immediately clear.  Pittsburgh family law attorneys will explain the date is not always the date a spouse vacates the marital residence. Some people reside together for years while separated for financial reasons, or due to children. Of course, for some people the date of separation is the actual date of moving out. Some people have differences of years in their position and attempt to strategically pin down a date of separation to maximize their finances. The latest date for the date of separation is the date the divorce complaint is filed.

In Pennsylvania, if a spouse does not agree to the divorce, the other spouse cannot force the divorce forward until those parties have been separated for a year (or two years, if the separation occurred before December 5, 2016).  December 5, 2016 is the effective date when the two-year waiting period was reduced to a one-year waiting period in Pennsylvania.

What constitutes a separation?

In Pennsylvania, you cannot file a legal separation document.  However, if you file a divorce complaint, that constitutes separation.  In other cases, the date of separation should be a direct and clear communication from one spouse to the other that he or she no longer wants to be married. It is a good idea to follow up on that conversation with a writing confirming the conversation, via letter, email or text message, and maintain a copy of the written communication.  After that, the behavior must also coincide with considering yourself separated and no longer a married couple.  Yes, the marriage may still be legally intact until a divorce decree is entered, but, the day-to-day living and actions are of a separated couple.

Not just one behavior exists to point to an exact formula for determining separation. Rather, there are a myriad of factors to be considered.  Some of those factors that point to being separated are:

  • Friends and family know you are separated.
  • You no longer engage in physical relations.
  • You no longer have dinners together or go out to dinner together alone.
  • You no longer sleep in the same bedroom.
  • You no longer celebrate holidays together.
  • You no longer vacation together or attend celebrations/parties/functions together.

This does not mean to say families cannot eat a holiday meal together for the sake of the children. This does not mean someone is prevented from being considerate, civil and humane to result in the home environment remaining as smooth as possible for the children.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has found isolated physical relations did not mean the parties reconciled and were not separated.  Thomas v. Thomas, 335 Pa.Super. 41, 483 A.2d945 (Pa.Super. 1984).  The Pennsylvania Superior Court also has found husband’s presence on trips, holidays and events were for the benefit of the parties’ daughter and not to reconcile and did not find the presence and attendance meant the separation was extinguished.  Frey v. Frey, 821 A.2d 623, 2003 Pa.Super. 135 (Pa.Super.2003).

 Each case, family, and situation is fact-specific, but the above are some of the factors illustrating how determining a date of separation can occur. A Pittsburgh family law attorney can help you analyze your specific situation and determine the most likely date of separation. If you are separated and considering divorce, contact one of our divorce attorneys at Pollock Begg Komar Glasser & Vertz LLC and we can best advise you how to move forward.


About the Author

A partner at Pollock Begg, Stephanie L. Jablon holds a dual certification in mediation and collaborative law and works to swiftly resolve cases amicably for her clients. Stephanie is a case note author and has presented legal education workshops and lectures.

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