Potential reconciliation between parties going through a divorce can have an impact on the course of the divorce. Specifically, if a party is pursuing a divorce on the grounds of two-year separation, a reconciliation may result in a new date of separation date and hence a new two-year waiting period. Case law has distinguished what actions/behavior will be considered a successful reconciliation, hence tolling a new period of separation, versus those actions/behavior that will not change the initial separation date. Separation for the purposes of divorce is defined as the “complete cessation of any and all cohabitation.” Cohabitation, though not specifically defined in the divorce code, is generally understood to be living and dwelling together as husband and wife with the mutual assumption of all marital rights, duties and obligations. It requires more than just remaining in the same house overnight or for the weekend or taking a week long trip together. This is still true even if the parties engage in sexual relations. Instances of sexual relations during a separation will not alone establish a reconciliation. The public policy of the Commonwealth is to encourage a reconciliation where possible and so it is reluctant to punish parties for unsuccessful reconciliations by causing the period of separation to have to start again because of a failed attempt.

In Thomas v. Thomas, 335 Pa. Super. 41 (1984), the Court expressed its agreement with neighboring states who treat the issue of reconciliation similarly. For example, in a New Jersey case the court held that a four week trial reconciliation period did not defeat the previously established separation date (Brittner v. Brittner, 124 N.J. Super. 259 (1973)). In Delaware, the law provides that any reconciliation attempts that occur prior to the 30 days immediately preceding the hearing on divorce will not affect the initial date of separation. Accordingly, attempts at reconciliation may not necessarily change the date of separation for the purposes of the divorce. The court would examine the facts of the reconciliation to determine if it was a full-blown resumption of the marital relationship which would potentially result in a different date of separation or alternatively, treat the failed attempt as further evidence that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the divorce should proceed on the initial separation date. In Britton v. Britton, 400 Pa. Super. 43 (1990) a reconciliation did defeat the period of separation when the reconciliation lasted three months, the parties resumed living together, ceased to maintain separate residences, jointly purchased a townhome, shared the same bedroom, engaged in sexual relations, shared a joint bank account and had a social life as husband and wife.

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The Philadelphia Center for Emotionally Focused Training is sponsoring a workshop for couples on February 2, 2013 titled “Hold Me Tight.” The focus of the workshop is to help couples reconnect and move forward in a more loving relationship. Dr. Ruth Jampol and Dr. Nancy Logue will be facilitating the workshop which will use the book written by Dr. Sue Johnson titled “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.” The workshop will be held at 102 West Maple Avenue, Langhorne, PA 19047 from 9:30 AM until 4:30 AM. Potential participants are encouraged to register in advance. Additional information regarding the workshop can be found in the flyer on our home page as well as the link below.

“Hold Me Tight” Couples Workshop

Parties are often encouraged to try to reach an agreement to resolve whatever issues have arisen in any legal matter. In family law, agreements are especially encouraged due to the personal nature of the issues at hand along with the belief that it is better for the parties to draft their own agreement rather than allow a stranger to dictate their family dynamics going forward. Most agreements in family law will be treated as any contract would and the parties will be obligated to comply with the provisions or face an action for contempt. The family court will retain jurisdiction over all agreements entered that are subsequently submitted to the court to be made an order. As with any contract the court is generally only concerned that the agreement was entered into voluntarily and knowingly. The court will not necessarily be reviewing the content of the agreement before allowing it to become an order of court.

If a provision of the agreement needs to be enforced and one party seeks the court’s help in pursuing contempt, at that point the court would need to examine the content of the agreement in order to make a decision on a resolution of the contempt. Many agreements will include a provision that the party who breaches the agreement will be responsible for attorney fees if contempt must be sought through the court to gain compliance. The most comprehensive agreement in a family law matter is a marital or property settlement agreement. This type of agreement sets out to resolve all issues in a divorce matter including, but not limited to, how the divorce will be proceed to finalization, division of property, child and spousal support and/or alimony, and custody. One provision that will not hold up in court even if the parties agreed to it is the waiver of child support. The PA Supreme Court ruled in Knorr v. Knorr, decided in 1991, that a parent may not contract away a child’s right to support as the court views child support as an entitlement of the child rather than the parents.

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