Closing an estate means that the work of administering the estate is done. This situation is reached only after the estate is properly inventoried, taxes are paid, all debts and other obligations are satisfied, and the remaining assets have been distributed via probate or other methods.

Estate executors in Pennsylvania must take one of two actions to close an estate. Find out more about what those actions are and when an estate is ready to close below, and learn how a probate lawyer may help with the process.

When Do You Close an Estate in Pennsylvania?

The first step in moving toward closure for an estate is finding any will left by the decedent. The decedent is the person who passed away. A will should name an executor and provide some details of how the decedent wanted his or her assets distributed among heirs. 

The executor should then complete tasks that include:

  • Probating the will. The will, death certificate, and other documents must be brought to the appropriate Register of Wills office. The documents are then entered into the register’s digital filing system.
  • Gathering assets. The executor works to discover all the assets of the estate and begins to create an accounting, or inventory, of those assets. That includes cash on hand and in accounts, real property such as homes, and other property like cars or personal effects.
  • Sending and publishing notices. The executor may need to publish notices in local newspapers and send notices to beneficiaries.
  • Conducting estate accounting. In some cases, the executor may need to file for tax ID numbers for the estate, open accounts in the estate’s name, and pay bills and debts from the estate.
  • Filing the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return. Someone will need to file the Rev-1500 form and pay the applicable Pennsylvania inheritance tax.
  • Distributing remaining assets. Once all debts and other obligations of the estate are handled, the remaining assets can be distributed to heirs according to the will and probate laws of the state.

How Can You Close an Estate in Pennsylvania?

Once all the matters associated with the estate are handled and there’s nothing else for the executor to do, the estate can be closed. This is done via one of two methods.

Via a Formal Account and Audit

The executor, who is also known as the personal representative in Pennsylvania, prepares a formal accounting of the estate and how it was administered. This includes a statement detailing how the assets and liabilities of the estate were handled and administered.

A formal notice must be sent to all potentially interested parties, such as creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. That notice must indicate when the formal report will be presented to the court. This provides time for any interested parties to object to the closing of the estate. When objections are received, they are dealt with via hearings on each matter.

If there are no objections—or if all objections are resolved—the estate can be closed.

Via a Family Settlement Agreement

If the formal method of closing an estate sounds like a lot of work and a bit daunting, don’t worry. There’s an informal method that is generally preferred by many families.

This method involves the executor or personal representative creating a document called a Family Settlement Agreement. This document should also include an account of the assets and liabilities of the estate and how they were handled, but it doesn’t need to be as formal and stringent as the formal account and audit in the above method.

Ultimately, the Family Settlement Agreement is a contract. The heirs of the estate sign it, indicating that they agree with how the estate was settled and also agree that it can be closed.

In many cases, other provisions are included in the contract. The personal representative can include a clause indemnifying them, which means the heirs agree not to hold the person responsible in the future if any honest errors are uncovered about the estate. The agreement might also detail payments to be made to the executor for their work on the estate.

A Family Settlement Agreement is an easier and less expensive way to close an estate. It doesn’t involve courts and hearings and allows the estate to be closed quickly. In many cases, the only reason to move to a formal audit is because the personal representative can’t get all the heirs to sign an agreement—for whatever reason. It may be that someone has refused to do so, for example, but it could also be that the executor has been unable to locate a specific heir or get them to respond to communication efforts.

Get Help From a Probate Professional

When a loved one dies, families can deal with a lot of emotion and stress. Piling complex estate administration and probate tasks onto an already difficult situation can create more stress and additional challenges. Yet, letting an estate sit without attending to it can also lead to issues.

If you find yourself in this conundrum, consider reaching out to an experienced professional for assistance. Contact Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., attorneys at law, today to find out how we can remove some of the burden from your shoulders.

Not to sound like a lawyer, but that depends. If you feel unsafe or your spouse drives you crazy, you should move, but you should be aware of and prepare for the negative consequences. If you can still tolerate each other and be civil, you’re probably better off staying in the home, at least until you reach a divorce agreement. 

Moving out makes the most sense when: 

  • You’re earning an income that will pay for both homes’ expenses 
  • You don’t have kids or, if you do, you aren’t interested in having primary custody 
  • You (and your kids) must leave an abusive situation 
  • You’re not interested in owning the house when marital assets are divided 

Should you stay or should you go? You have to consider the issues: 

  1. Would Moving Impact a Custody Dispute? 

If you have kids, do you plan to move out with them, or will they stay with the other parent? Moving out of the home while your kids remain will likely impact your custody claim, so if that’s a priority, stay where you are. 

Unless you’re involved in an abusive relationship, it’s usually in a child’s best interests to stay in the family home during a divorce because it should minimize the potential disruptions to children’s lives.  

  1. How Would Moving Affect Your Finances in the Short and Long Term? 

Moving means two households and possibly twice as many expenses. Leaving your marital home doesn’t mean you no longer need to worry about its bills. If you share the title and a mortgage to a house, you must keep up the payments. You’ll have your new expenses, plus your old ones. Can you swing that? 

Your house may be the most valuable asset the two of you own. Though it’s no guarantee, when it’s time to decide who will get the house, the spouse living in or maintaining it can have a stronger claim than the one who moved out or who isn’t helping to maintain it.  

If you want the house when marital property is divided, remaining in it may help protect your interests. Leaving is not a big deal if you don’t want the house and would rather have your share of it paid to you in cash or some other asset. 

  1. Might Remaining at Home Push the Divorce Process Along? 

Emotionally, moving out can be a mixed bag. In the short term, the two of you are physically away from a source of stress which should improve your peace of mind. This reduced stress takes some pressure off and makes finalizing the divorce less urgent. Therefore negotiations may drag out longer. If you share the same household, the two of you may be more motivated to get the divorce over and done with. 

Don’t Make a Move Without Talking to Us 

Moving out of your marital home may have far more consequences than you realize. You may see living on your own as a major goal that shouldn’t wait for a finalized divorce. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to achieve that with minimal impact on your interests. It may also be a significant financial stretch that can impact your ability to get custody of your kids and your house as part of the division of assets. 

Should you move during your divorce? Like all other issues, that depends on your goals, situation, and the law’s impact. If you’re thinking about getting divorced and how that’ll impact where you’ll live, contact us here at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., so we can answer your questions and discuss how we can help you.  

A properly executed, valid agreement made before or after a couple marries should simplify divorce proceedings. Prenuptial (or in Pennsylvania, premarital) agreements are better known and, generally, easier to enforce. A contract made after a marriage takes place (a postnuptial agreement), though different, can accomplish many of the same goals and be very useful if you divorce. 

What Can a Postnuptial Agreement Cover? 

Postnuptial agreements can cover critical issues, so you should have legal representation when one is negotiated and executed. Without a lawyer’s help, you may agree to a one-sided contract that can severely disadvantage you if you divorce. A red flag would be if your spouse is represented by an attorney, but you’re not. 

Postnuptial agreements can lay out what happens to the couple’s assets and debts if they divorce, ideally shortening the divorce process and simplifying it. A wide range of issues can be covered, including what happens to a business that one or both parties own. They can also set down rules on what will happen to assets if a spouse engages in destructive habits like infidelity, substance abuse, or squandering the couple’s resources. 

What Must a Postnuptial Agreement Have to be Enforced By a Court? 

There are many potential issues concerning the enforceability of Pennsylvania postnuptial agreements: 

  • They must be in writing. 
  • There should be full disclosure by both parties of income, assets, and property, but that can be waived by one or both parties.  
  • A postnuptial agreement, ideally, should be fair, but that’s not a requirement. Courts interpret these agreements by using contract law. Its focus is more on the fairness of the process and less on the outcome, though a court wouldn’t approve of a spouse being left destitute. 
  • Both parties must voluntarily and fully agree to the agreement’s terms. A spouse may claim their agreement was the result of fraud or duress, so it shouldn’t be enforced.   

If you’re going through the time and expense of this process, you should make sure what you want becomes a reality. Legal representation should prevent enforcement problems before they happen.  

When Only One Spouse Wants a Postnuptial Agreement 

Agreements can be very helpful from a legal perspective, but creating one may not excite your spouse as much as your lawyer.  

  • Both of you may have fundamental disagreements about how assets would be handled through a divorce 
  • One may fear the process of creating a postnuptial agreement will needlessly add stress to your relationship  
  • If one of you earns much more than the other, the one making less may fear an agreement will put them at a disadvantage 

If these are issues, the two of you should have open and honest discussions. If creating an agreement is important to you, but your spouse refuses, contact our office so we can talk about this and the best way to move forward. 

If you have any questions about postnuptial agreements or want help negotiating and drafting one, please contact us here at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C. We can discuss your options and how we can help you.

Divorce is a frustrating experience, though actually having a divorce granted is often a great relief. But not every divorce is the same. Some are based on faults, some are based on irreconcilable differences, and others yet are hard-fought battles in order to achieve freedom.

If you are considering a divorce, then you already know that you are going to be going through a rough experience. But what you might not know already is how long it will take. That’s a question that’s a little harder to answer than you might have thought.

The reason it’s hard to answer is that it depends on the circumstances of the divorce itself. To get a sense of how long your divorce may take, we’ll look at the different kinds of divorce there are. We’ll see how long it takes when there is no fault, how long it takes when there is fault, and how long it takes when the divorce is contested; that way, you can have a sense of how long yours will take.

How Long Does a No-Fault Divorce Take?

A no-fault divorce can be one of the quicker ways to achieve a divorce. The idea of a no-fault divorce is that nobody involved was at fault, the relationship between the spouses has hit some irreconcilable differences, and therefore the only way to move forward is separately.

Because nobody is at fault, these divorces can often move forward rather quickly. However, it’s important to note that the divorce could be contested and this, in turn, would greatly lengthen the process. However, we will be discussing contested divorce in more depth below, so for the purposes of this discussion on no-fault divorce, we will assume that it is uncontested.

There are two ways to get a no-fault divorce, and they take vastly different amounts of time. The first way, which is the shortest, is for you and your spouse to both consent to the divorce. When this is the case, you could have the divorce finalized 90 days after filing. This is the mandatory waiting period in Pennsylvania and so you won’t be able to speed that up.

The other way to get a no-fault divorce requires that you and your spouse be separated for at least two years. This would mean then that this approach could get a divorce finalized two years and three months later. Clearly, the faster route is to both agree to a no-fault divorce, otherwise you’ll have to wait.

How Long Does a Fault Divorce Take?

A fault divorce is different in that it is directly stating that one of the spouses is at fault for the divorce. Legally this means that the at fault individual is guilty of:

  • Adultery
  • Abandonment (for at least a year)
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Bigamy
  • Or they were convicted of a crime that would see them behind bars for two years or more

Divorces of this nature can be long and costly. You can’t just say that your spouse is guilty of one of these, you need to prove it. While this is easiest when they are convicted of a crime, it can be much harder to prove extreme cruelty or adultery. It takes time to gather evidence and build a case that will prove the allegations.

Thankfully, though, if your particular case is easy to prove then it could move quite quickly. A fault divorce is not subject to the three month waiting period discussed above. This means that if you already have enough evidence, this type of divorce should, in theory, be faster. 

How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take?

A contested divorce can take a very, very long time to resolve in some cases. A contested divorce is simply a divorce wherein the two parties disagree on different parts of the divorce agreement. So it could be a loveless marriage that both individuals want out of, but because of a disagreement on the divorce agreement it could be dragged out for years.

Disputes typically arise in regards to the distribution of assets of the marriage, as well as child-related issues such as the amount of child support or the custody of the children. These fights can become quite intense.

One thing that often helps to speed up the process is to work with an attorney as a mediator. A mediator acts as a neutral third party to engage the fighting parties in a structured resolution-focused discussion in order to try to come to agreeable terms. A mediator isn’t a couple’s therapist; they aren’t going to try to make you like each other. Their goal is to bring the conflict to an end.

This is often the best way to bring a contested divorce to a close. If issues continue to long, and especially if they are negatively impacting the children of the marriage, then the courts may make decisions for the couple in order to bring an end to the ordeal. This may resolve any conflicts that were still open, but it removes control from the parties involved. This means that the resolution isn’t necessarily going to be agreeable to either individual.

The reason that we mention children of the marriage specifically is that the courts really do pay special attention to how the process is affecting them. They also want to ensure that the decisions the couple makes or outcomes they fight for are appropriate. So one parent trying to gain sole custody only to deprive the other of their children would be looked at negatively by the court and almost certainly never get the request granted. But a spouse seeking sole custody to protect the children from an abusive parent would be a whole different story.

Is There Any Way to Speed Up My Divorce?

If you are looking to get divorced, then one thing that could help speed up the process is to attain the services of a qualified and experienced divorce attorney. They can file paperwork on your behalf to start the divorce process, or they can help you to build a case for a fault divorce prior to filing.

Should the divorce go forward smoothly, then you won’t need their services for very long. But if your spouse contests the divorce, then your attorney is in the right position to get a quick start on whatever legal challenge comes your way.

Like most lawsuits and legal disputes, nearly all divorces resolve outside of a courtroom. Most parties can’t justify the costs of a trial in money, time, energy, and stress. How you approach your divorce and its resolution depends on you and your spouse.  

Divorcing spouses come from all different emotional directions. They may be heartbroken, emotionally exhausted, or enraged. They may be willing to settle at all costs and just get the divorce over with or be eager to fight over every penny. After learning about the law and going through the process, most couples, no matter their starting point, realize that reaching a resolution is the best option. 

Do You Want to Go to Court? 

Going to court usually happens when one or both parties are unreasonable. One side may look at the issues rationally, but the other makes unreasonable, unacceptable settlement demands. Sometimes both parties are willing and able to use litigation to try to legally bludgeon the other spouse to get what they think will be a victory. 

There are many reasons to avoid litigation. The cost in time and expense can be substantial, especially if the issues are complex and there’s a lot of evidence that could be admitted. Even if you get a favorable judgment, the other party may appeal, potentially prolonging the case for years. 

Litigation puts the outcome into the hands of a judge or jury. It’s like handing over your car keys to someone you don’t know and giving them directions, but they ultimately decide where you’ll end up. In this situation, the issue is not which town you’ll be in. It’s what will happen with your future life, your finances, and your children. 

How Do You Want to Approach Your Divorce? 

Nearly all divorces are uncontested, but you could try to fight your spouse’s attempt to get one. Unless you have compelling reasons, contesting a divorce when your spouse no longer wants to be married, for practical and legal reasons, probably doesn’t make sense. 

If the two of you understand the relationship is over and have no (or few) axes to grind, a collaborative divorce is worth considering. It’s a divorce in which both parties agree to do their best to resolve their issues out of court (though resolving them in court is an option if their efforts fail). It works best when you’re both amicable and will talk and act in good faith. It may also work when financial issues are already worked out in a prenuptial agreement.  

Disagreements that you can’t resolve need not end up in court. Another option is using a mediator, a neutral third party (usually an attorney, sometimes a retired judge) who helps both sides reach an agreement. In addition to representing parties, we at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C. also mediate disputes between divorcing couples. 

Do You Want Legal Representation? 

The answer should be yes. If you’re of low income and have few assets, you may qualify for help from a legal aid organization to help you and your spouse divorce. Otherwise, contact our office. Your situation may be much more complicated than you think, and your spouse’s proposals may not be as reasonable as they appear. You must understand your rights and protect them during a divorce. A mistake made when you do it yourself may haunt you for the rest of your life. 

The attorneys at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., can answer your questions and represent you in your divorce, no matter which approach you take or how it’s resolved. Contact us today to see how we can help you.  

A divorce starts a new chapter of your life. But even after it’s final, your life will not turn on a dime, especially if you share children with your ex-spouse. There will be loose ends to tie up and details to address. Where do you start? 

What’s in Your Divorce Agreement? 

The divorce agreement is part of your divorce order. It will require you and your spouse to do certain things by given dates. Some things are time sensitive, like changing property titles and deeds. 

Compile a list of what needs to be done and when, and calendar each task. You must honor your end of the bargain and keep track of your spouse’s obligations, so if they miss a deadline you’ll know about it.   

If you have a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO), it’s a court order that may require one of you to share your retirement savings with the other. It’s often part of the process that divides spouses’ assets, and their requirements are time-sensitive. 

Will You Need Health Insurance? 

Unless you’re old enough for Medicare, have health insurance from your employer, or already purchased it yourself, you’ll need health coverage. If you got it through your spouse’s employer, you could continue it through the COBRA process for up to three years. This is probably pretty expensive, so you might just want it to be a bridge to more affordable coverage. One option may be an Affordable Care Act (ACA) plan or a policy you buy from an insurance agent. 

If you have kids and your ex-spouse gets medical benefits from work, maintaining that coverage is probably the best option. If not, COBRA or the ACA may be good options. 

What’s Your Credit Score? Is it Getting Better or Worse? 

Protecting your credit score will allow you to borrow money and get lines of credit at the lowest interest rate possible. Here are post-divorce steps you can take, according to AARP

  • Close joint accounts: Your ex-spouse may run up debts and be late with payments or not pay at all. Inform creditors of your divorce and that you’re not responsible for further debts. 
  • Get monthly statements: If joint accounts have outstanding balances, these statements will show you’re making timely payments. 
  • If you move, file a change of address notice with the U.S. Postal Service: If you don’t get a bill, you won’t pay it, and that will harm your credit score. If you pay bills online, getting monthly statements or changing your address won’t be issues. 
  • Use credit cards wisely: Don’t engage in binge “retail therapy” shopping if you feel depressed. You’ll only feel worse when you get the bill, and your credit score will suffer if you don’t make payments on time. 
  • Regularly check your credit reports: See if there are any errors or problems caused during your marriage or divorce. Take action if you find them. 
  • Freeze your credit files: Given your spouse knows your Social Security number and other critical information, you may fear they may engage in identity theft. If so, a credit freeze should prevent any new accounts from being opened in your name 

Be proactive because preventing financial problems is easier than unwinding them after they happen. 

Have You Updated Your Estate Planning? 

If you had estate planning done during your marriage, you likely named each other as your primary beneficiaries. You probably don’t want your assets going to your ex now, though you may feel they can handle being a trustee for a trust that benefits your children. Make sure your estate plans accurately reflect your wishes.

Is Your Divorce Over, But You Still Need an Attorney? 

We will fight to protect your interests and work to ensure you’re in the best position possible after your divorce is final. Contact Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., Attorneys at Law, for a free consultation so we can discuss your situation and how we can help. 

While many married couples handle their estate planning matters together, they don’t have to. A husband or wife can create a will without the input or even knowledge of their spouse. However, that doesn’t mean that spouses don’t have protections against being written out of the other person’s will or that there aren’t other factors to consider in estate planning.

Find out more about how wills may be treated when two people are married. Then learn about how an estate planning attorney can help you protect your legacy or contest a will if you feel you are being treated unfairly after the death of a loved one.

Your Spouse Can Make a Will Without You Knowing It

Anyone who is 18 years or older can create a will in Pennsylvania. For a will to be valid, it typically needs to be executed in the presence of two witnesses. Those witnesses sign indicating they understood the person to be signing a will and that they witnessed the person doing so of their own accord.

Nowhere in the law does it say that a married person must notify his or her spouse that a will was created. It’s even possible that you might know about a will that your spouse created earlier in the marriage and that they created another one later that you don’t find out about until it’s time for probate.

In Pennsylvania, Surviving Spouses Have Rights

However, surviving spouses in Pennsylvania are protected by some rights. That means that your spouse probably can’t create a will that cuts you out of all inheritance.

Pennsylvania law provides married people with a right to election when their spouse dies. You can elect to receive a third of qualified property under this election. Qualifying property includes:

  • Any property that would go through probate or be included in a will
  • Property associated with income that the spouse was entitled to during the marriage
  • Part of joint accounts the deceased spouse owned
  • Annuity payments if the spouse that passed away was receiving payments from an annuity purchased during the marriage
  • Gifts of more than $3,000 made within the year prior to the other spouse’s death

Life insurance payouts, retirement plans, and certain property transferred by the deceased spouse with the permission of the surviving spouse are not included in this election option.

You can assert your right to election after your spouse dies whether or not there is a will in place. If there is a will and you have not been left anything in it, you can use the election right to claim one-third of eligible property. Even if you have been left something in a will or trust, you can assert your right to election instead. However, if you go that path, you may forfeit your right to the property left to you via those other estate channels.

In some specific scenarios, you don’t have a right to this election. A legally binding prenuptial agreement or post-nuptial agreement may include language that waives this right. If you’re divorced, you also don’t have this right, and that’s also the case if you have deserted your spouse or failed to perform the duty of a spouse for a year or more.

Divorce Can Impact How a Will Is Enforced

Divorce can have other implications on wills and estate administration too. The impact of divorce on a will that includes provisions favorable to an ex-spouse may be to disqualify them. If there is not clear language in the will that the provisions were meant to stand even after a divorce, the court may consider them ineffective because you are no longer the spouse.

This is only the case if you get divorced after your spouse made the will. If your ex-spouse includes you in a will created after you are divorced, those provisions would stand.

However, if you are not yet divorced but divorce proceedings are in motion and grounds have been established, you may lose your right to anything left to you as a spouse in a will created before divorce proceedings began.

Working With an Estate Planning Attorney Can Help You Protect Your Legacy and Your Loved Ones

As you can see, wills, probate, and other estate matters can get quite complicated. Whether you want to plan your estate and create wills and other documents that stand the test of time or you want to assert your rights as a surviving spouse, working with an estate planning attorney can help.

Some of the things an experienced estate lawyer can help with include:

  • Creating valid wills that hold up to legal scrutiny and help ensure your wishes are protected
  • Advising you about the benefits of other estate options, including trusts—and helping you execute on those options if desired
  • Helping you contest a will or assert your right to claim a spousal election if needed

If you are dealing with estate issues, feel you have been cut out of a rightful inheritance, or want to plan ahead to protect your legacy, reach out to Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., Attorneys at Law to find out how we can help.

Parenting plans must be handled with good faith and flexibility. Problems arise when a parent acts in bad faith and ignores their obligations. If you feel this is something you’ll just deal with to avoid a confrontation, know that the situation won’t improve by itself. You’ll reach a point where you’ve had enough.

In most cases, divorces involving couples without kids are simpler because their relationships as spouses (with some exceptions) and individuals will end. That’s not true when parents divorce. They’re responsible for the same children, and unless one parent walks away from their child or is deemed unfit, they both have the right to maintain relationships with their child.

What is a Parenting Time Plan?

A parenting time plan aims to meet everyone’s needs as reasonably as possible by setting out a schedule of when a child will be with a parent. During the school year, the child may spend weekdays with one parent and the weekends with the other (or the weekends are split). This could also involve the child living with a parent during the summer and school vacations. Holidays are usually split between the two parents. Your parenting plan should be customized to fit the lives of those involved.

Ideally, the plan works for everyone, or minor changes are made over time. A child or parent may be sick. A parent may have a long, unexpected business trip. Cars break down. Traffic jams can cause delays, especially if a child and parent have a long distance to travel. These issues should be handled reasonably and unemotionally by the parents.

What Problems May Arise With a Parenting Time Plan?

Sometimes the situation is not ideal. One parent may see the plan as optional. It’s something they change at the last minute without consulting the other parent or child. One parent may feel the plan unfairly limits their time with the child, so they invent their own informal plan by returning the child later than they should.

This can be a serious problem for you. When your ex-spouse is chronically late or fails to communicate with you, it shows a lack of respect for you, your time, and the divorce order. Depending on the child’s age, their plans can be disrupted too. You may miss work or family obligations. Planned time with friends can be disrupted.

How Can I End Parenting Time Conflicts?

Here are some things to think about if you’re in this situation:

  • Is the other parent doing this to you because you’re doing the same to your ex? Are your hands clean, or is this an exchange of fire with your children stuck in the middle? If you’re guilty of the same thing, you must stop.
  • Does the other parent know their obligations? Does a lack of understanding or communication cause these issues? Don’t launch into a verbal attack. Clarify who needs to do what, and when. If the other spouse’s life has changed and the plan is no longer practical, try to work out a solution.

How Can an Attorney Help With Parenting Time Plan Problems?

If neither of these approaches gets results and your ex-spouse acts in bad faith, start documenting the problem. Create a journal with notes of your conversations. Confirm the discussions with a text or email. Keep these emails and texts discussing the situation.

When your child is picked up or returned late, take a photo or video with your smartphone. It should have the date and time when it was made. This is critical evidence that may allow you to leverage the court’s power to help you.

You should also call our office and get legal help. If you haven’t been divorced before, this may be the first time you’ve dealt with this problem. We’ve had many clients suffer through parenting plan battles. We’ve seen approaches that work and those that do not. We’ll put together a plan to get this under control.

One of our attorneys may speak with your ex-spouse or their attorney to try to straighten this out. Mediation may be worth a try. If all else fails, we can go to court to enforce the existing parenting plan and consider asking a judge to find your ex-spouse in contempt of a court order.

At Karen A. Ulmer, P.C., we know how to protect our clients and hold lying spouses accountable. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

In Pennsylvania, your date of separation can be a big factor in your divorce. It may help determine how assets and debts are divided, for example. But many people mistake their date of separation for the moment they officially state they want a divorce.

Find out more about why your date of separation is important and how the courts might determine when it is if you and your spouse can’t agree. Then learn how a family law attorney in Pennsylvania can help you protect your interests in a divorce.

What Is a Date of Separation?

In Pennsylvania, the date of separation in a marriage occurs when it is apparent that two people are no longer living together as a married couple. The most obvious form of separation occurs when at least one person moves out of the home, but a couple can be separated without taking that step. For example, if two people stop wearing their wedding rings and agree to sleep in separate rooms and only live as roommates for practical purposes, it could be a sign they are separated.

Why Does Your Date of Separation Matter?

The date of separation—and not the date you file for divorce—becomes an important marker in a divorce when it comes to dividing marital property and debts. It may also be a consideration for child support and alimony payments.

When it comes to dividing marital property, Pennsylvania follows the concept of equitable distribution. That means property isn’t necessarily divided along a 50/50 split (as is typical in community property states). Instead, the court considers the financial details and situation of each person and tries to allocate property fairly given those factors.

All assets acquired during the marriage are subject to this fair allocation by the court. Of course, a divorcing couple may also negotiate their own settlement, but, again, any assets acquired during the marriage are fair play.

What is not subject to these negotiations or allocations are assets acquired after the date of separation. Those are considered the individual property of each person.

The same is true of debts. Debts acquired during the marriage may be allocated to either spouse as is deemed fair. Debts acquired after the date of separation are the sole responsibility of the person who acquired them.

You can see that there may be an incentive for one spouse to push for a certain date of separation that the other doesn’t agree with. A different date might leave one person more assets or less debts. Courts can also order someone to pay child support or alimony retroactively, and that retroactive date can reach as far back as the date of separation.

How to Determine Your Date of Separation

In many cases, spouses do come to an agreement on when their date of separation was. If you’re trying to get through a civil divorce without a court battle, for example, you may want to negotiate together to choose a date that works in both of your interests (and which meets the standards for separation).

When spouses can’t agree on a date of separation, the court makes a decision—often after hearing from each side on why a certain date is the right date. Some facts the court looks at when determining a date of separation include:

  • When someone moved out. If one or both people moved out of the home they shared and did not again reside together, that is typically a pretty decent indicator of the date of separation.
  • When a couple stopped acting like a couple. The court may consider when you stopped sleeping together or having sex, wearing your wedding rings, or telling people you were married. Other indicators you are no longer a couple might include dating other people and telling your friends that you were separated.
  • When couples took separate financial or legal actions. If you closed your joint accounts and opened individual ones, contacted attorneys to discuss divorce, or updated your wills to exclude a spouse, these can be indicators of separation.

In many cases, one of these details alone won’t demonstrate a date of separation. For example, you might consult a divorce attorney after an argument or when you and your spouse are considering a potential separation. But if you keep going to marital counseling and show up at family events clearly together, you’re probably not actually separated yet.

If spouses can’t agree on a date of separation and courts don’t have enough evidence to choose a specific date, the court may simply consider the date you filed for divorce as your date of separation. After all, in 2021 alone, more than 31,000 divorces and annulments were granted in Pennsylvania. The courts may not have time to dig any deeper into when, exactly, two people stopped living as if they were married.

Why You Might Need a Divorce Attorney

The details really matter during a divorce. Getting them right and understanding how they impact your case can help you stand up for your rights and protect your interests. A divorce lawyer fights to protect your interests and works to ensure all the small details are covered.

If you’re considering a divorce, contact Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., Attorneys at Law. We can help you plan ahead to protect your assets and interests—as well as the interests of any children—during and after your divorce.

You may have a good idea of what they’re going through if you’ve been divorced. If not, your child is experiencing a stressful and possibly traumatic experience. They need love, support, and understanding. They don’t need to hear from someone who is judgmental and wants to blame someone. 

They may have been in a bad, possibly abusive, relationship, so this may be good news. If the marriage was a weight pulling them down, a divorce will lighten their load in the long term and put them on a new path. Your child may be on an emotional roller coaster, moving from relief to anger, fear, and guilt, so be prepared for the ride. 

Be Understanding 

As best as you can, be a role model. Support them emotionally and give them the best advice you can. If their needs are beyond what you can provide, find a support group or therapist who may be able to help. If there are times you don’t know what to say, you may feel like you’re not doing any good. Just giving your time and being with your child may be enough. 

Don’t Bash the Ex 

You may think you’re making your child feel better by saying how awful their spouse is and supporting their decision to end the marriage. But your child may feel embarrassed, stupid, or foolish because they invested so much time, effort, and emotion into a marriage with such a terrible person.  

Attacking the spouse is a particularly bad approach if the two have children. The spouse will probably still play a significant role in your grandchildren’s lives. Don’t complicate relationships by telling your grandkids they’re better off without the other parent or trying to prevent them from seeing each other. 

Be Loyal Up to a Point 

Let your child know you’ll be there for them through the divorce and beyond. If your child’s way of coping involves substance abuse, get them help. If the marriage broke up because of your child’s bad behavior (lying, being unfaithful, drinking too much or using drugs, refusing to get mental health care), be loyal by trying to help them work through their faults and getting them the help they need. If they continue their bad ways in their relationship with you, you must set hard limits on what’s acceptable and enforce boundaries. 

Don’t Be a Bulldozer Parent 

As much as you want to help, and as distraught as your child may be, they need to work through this themselves. You can’t do this for them. Steer them into thinking about issues they must resolve and ask questions to help their thought process. Don’t game plan their future life or give them a checklist of what to do and not do. Give advice, and don’t issue orders. 

Avoid ‘I Told You So’ 

You may have seen the divorce coming for a long time because they weren’t a good fit. You may have even told your child this before they married. Don’t build yourself up by tearing your child down. They have enough problems. They’re second-guessing and maybe blaming themselves for the situation. Don’t pour salt into the wounds. 

Tell Them They Should Talk to An Attorney 

If your child is thinking about divorcing or their marriage is breaking apart, they should contact Karen A. Ulmer, P.C., to learn how we can help. We can explain divorce law, help them understand their rights and responsibilities, and suggest the best way to start a new life.