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. 

If you’re awarded or have negotiated spousal support (alimony) as part of the divorce order, whether you work after it’s final may be an issue. Collecting support doesn’t necessarily mean you must work, nor does it necessarily allow you to stop working. It depends on your circumstances. 

Your spouse can’t force you to work after the divorce is final, but they may ask the judge to lower or end your alimony if you don’t have or are not actively seeking employment or a better-paying job. The judge would weigh that against the circumstances you claim would make that unreasonable or impossible. 

What is Spousal Support or Alimony? 

It can be one of several economic changes due to a divorce. One party would pay the other as part of ending the marriage. Arguments for alimony include one spouse sacrificing their earning power by caring for children or otherwise supporting their spouse and their career, so it would be unfair not to compensate the person. 

Pennsylvania statutes don’t require alimony.  Granting it must be “reasonable,” and the alimony must be “necessary.” There are 17 factors a judge must consider, and a judge could come up with more if they’re “relevant” to your case. Some of the factors spelled out in the law include: 

  • The parties’ relative earnings and earning capacities 
  • Their ages and physical, mental, and emotional conditions 
  • The extent the earning power, expenses, or financial obligations of a party will be impacted because they’re a minor child’s custodian  
  • The parties’ living standards during the marriage 
  • Whether the party seeking alimony is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment 

The court order would include how long alimony would be received. The time frame could be limited or indefinite but must be reasonable under the circumstances.  

Why Would Your Spouse Want You to Work? 

It’s in your spouse’s financial interests to limit or prevent you from getting spousal support because the less you receive, the less support they pay. They would claim it’s not reasonable or necessary for you to receive so much support.  

If alimony is part of a divorce order and later your ex-spouse claims a substantial change in circumstances has taken place, they may try to have the order changed, so you receive no or less alimony. 

If the judge sees things your spouse’s way, they may consider your circumstances, education, and work experience and estimate the income you should earn if you sought employment (imputed income). Given that income, the judge may decide if you should receive support and if so, how much. 

Why Shouldn’t You Work? 

You’d have to give reasons why alimony is necessary and receiving enough to support you fully is reasonable. 

  • You’re unable to work. You’re too old or may have a physical, emotional, or psychological disability that makes working impossible. 
  • You’re the full-time caregiver of your minor children, so given the demands of parenthood and daycare costs, working is impractical. You have a stronger argument if you have multiple kids and or they have special needs that take more time and energy. 
  • You’re the full-time caregiver of a parent or other family member. 
  • Your standard of living established during the marriage should continue. You didn’t need to work while you were married. The fact you’re divorced shouldn’t change that.  

You would need evidence to support your claims. Your opinion wouldn’t be enough. 

How Might This Be Resolved? 

The judge may make a compromise between both parties’ positions. You would get enough alimony to fully support you for a limited time, then it would decrease and eventually end. In this period where you need not work: 

  • You should improve your education, skills, or experience so you can get a decent-paying job 
  • Your disabilities would be treated, and job training should help you find work 
  • Your children would mature, requiring less time and effort on your part, allowing you to work  

The judge may also agree with your spouse, and you’ll get no or little alimony. Like all divorce-related disputes, you and your spouse avoid the risk of losing the case at a trial by negotiating an agreement. 

If you’re considering getting divorced, involved in a spousal support dispute, or your ex-spouse is trying to end your alimony payments, please contact us here at Karen A. Ulmer, P.C. We can discuss your options and how we can help you. 

If you are divorced with minor children, you probably struggled over the last two years. Many parenting plans did not make accommodations for kids in virtual school, daycare facilities closing, and all activities being canceled. We’re too busy to plan for the unexpected, though we know it’s what we should do. If you have a child custody order, you should have a parenting time plan. It may be very detailed and explicit about where your child is supposed to be and when. Even under ideal circumstances, this may be difficult to pull off. What will happen if there’s another pandemic? 

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? 

A study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found the probability of a pandemic with COVID-19-like impact is about 2% in any year. This means a person born in 2000 had about a 38% chance of experiencing one.  

Researchers found significant pandemics are relatively likely, and the risks of intense disease outbreaks are rapidly growing. Due to the increasing rate at which novel pathogens have infected mass numbers of human populations in the last 50 years, the study estimates that the probability of new disease outbreaks will probably increase three-fold in the next few decades. 

Planning for the Next Pandemic 

Whether another pandemic occurs or a natural or manmade disaster strikes, it’s a good idea to have a Plan B. Your parenting time plan would be its basis, a launchpad to deal with potential long-term disruptions to your lives.  

The parents should create an agreement describing how to meet their child’s needs and the role and steps each parent will play during this hopefully short-lived, future public health emergency:  

  • What’s the best way to split the child’s time between each parent in light of health concerns, school cancellations, and work disruptions?  
  • What would be a good schedule for home/remote schooling, so a child’s time spent on learning is separate from agreed-upon parenting time?  
  • How should child exchange rules work given possible pandemic restrictions, including quarantines and travel advisories?  
  • How should you handle missed holidays or planned parenting time due to illness or travel restrictions? Would Zoom calls count as parenting time?  
  • What should be the rules for meeting or engaging with people outside your immediate households? Should you socially distance, wear masks, and obey government guidelines? Parents can have very different viewpoints on the need for precautions. If one parent ignores them and allows the child to do the same, and the child becomes infected, it could make a bad relationship with a parent strict about safety measures much worse. 
  • What will be your approach to amending this agreement as circumstances change? The next pandemic may be very unlike what we saw with COVID-19. The virus may spread differently, and government mandates may be looser or stricter than in the past. Although planning is important, so is the ability to adapt as the circumstances change.

The next pandemic could start next week or five years from now. Don’t let that uncertainty make you less motivated to get this done. You have a busy life, but you don’t want to put this off until employers are shutting down, schools are closing, and the governor announces everyone should stay home. 

If you have any questions about putting this plan together or you’re facing pushback from the other parent, contact us here at Karen A. Ulmer, P.C. to see how we can help. 

Congratulations! It took some work, but you got the house after your divorce. Hopefully, you’ll spend many happy, healthy years there. But you run the risk of nightmares all homeowners may have (raccoons in the attic?), plus some that divorcees in particular face.

Surprise! You Have an Open Home Equity Loan!

Marital homes and mortgages are usually in both spouses’ names. The house may be in your spouse’s name only, but you’re taking over ownership. As part of transferring the home to you, you would refinance the mortgage or get a new one, so you’re the only one responsible for paying for it.

As part of the approval process, you may discover an unpaid home equity loan (HELOC) on the property. Your spouse may have taken it without your knowledge or forged your signature on the application. They didn’t disclose it during the divorce process, and your attorney may have used a quitclaim deed to change ownership, so no title search was done.

Home equity funds may be accessed by your ex-spouse through checks or a credit card, which may only need one signature. Contact the lender and cancel all credit lines if this is the case. Put the creditor on written notice that you’re not responsible for further debts. If you’re the victim of identity theft, you could file a police report.

Ending the Nightmare and Preventing Future Ones

Your house is the collateral for a loan your ex took out. From the lender’s perspective, your divorce doesn’t change the fact someone needs to pay the debt. Ideally, when confronted with the truth, they’ll have the resources to pay it off and take care of it, but that’s probably unlikely.

Call our office as soon as possible. We can discuss how to make this right. Your ex-spouse may have failed to disclose the loan or lied about it. Unless we can work this out with your ex, we need to go back to court and change the divorce agreement or order to reflect this newly discovered liability.

The amended order should spell out how your ex will resolve the issue. If they don’t have the money on hand to pay the debt, they could be required to sell or liquidate assets or property to clear it up.

This HELOC can be a big problem, but also a sign your ex may have left other financial landmines behind. We may review both parties’ finances again to ensure that’s not the case. If your ex owns their own business, that may be worth looking into because it can be used to hide assets.

If you’ve gotten nasty surprises after you thought your divorce was final, please contact us here at Karen A. Ulmer, P.C. We can discuss your options and how we can help you.

There could be several dates in a divorce agreement or order. If your ex-spouse is missing deadlines it can make the divorce process more difficult and irritating. This could be an intentional act or your ex could just be disorganized and inconsiderate. Either way, it’s not something you should tolerate. 

Many divorce issues are date-driven, including: 

  • Signing documents finalizing the divorce 
  • Paying child support 
  • Paying spousal support 
  • Splitting bank, investment, and other accounts 
  • Sharing custody which involves dates describing when you’ll spend time with your child 
  • Changing the title to your home 

Late arrivals can be incredibly irritating if the two of you share child custody. If the other parent is constantly late when returning your child to you, they are stealing time you should have with your child. Your ex-may also be in the habit of making partial alimony or child support payments, with the remainder being late or never coming at all. The more inches you give to your spouse, the more miles they will take. 

Issues like this show how grown adults can revert to immature children. They may be sloppy and poor time managers and not take responsibility for their actions. Your ex may also be spiteful, making your life more painful and difficult. 

What Should I Do If My Ex-Spouse Never Does Anything on Time? 

Document what is happening. Dates and deadlines should be part of divorce documents. You should keep correspondence, emails, and texts containing dates and times. Make copies of checks or keep copies of financial records showing when you’re paid and how much. Follow up on blown dates and late arrivals with emails documenting the problem. 

You are building a case against your spouse. That requires facts and evidence. Create a paper trail of what’s going on. Organize your documents, then create one listing what problems happened and when.  

Copy your documents and write a letter stating what dates and times were supposed to be met and what happened. Send it certified mail to your ex and follow up with a phone call to discuss how these problems will be prevented in the future. 

What Can an Attorney Do If My Ex-Spouse Continues to Be a Problem? 

Call our office if your ex-spouse doesn’t care and is unwilling to change or says they’ll change but fails to follow through. The information you documented and organized will be critical to the next step. 

There must be consequences if an immature ex-spouse won’t change their behavior. You must make non-compliance so painful that following the rules is the better option. We can ask the judge to hold your ex-spouse in contempt for failing to follow court orders.  

The judge may be reluctant to “drop the hammer” on your ex-spouse and give them another chance. If time with your children has been impacted, you may get additional time. If the situation is difficult enough, the judge can fine your ex-spouse. 

The attorneys at Karen A. Ulmer, P.C., know how to protect our clients and hold ex-spouses accountable. Contact us today to see how we can help you. 

If your spouse is talking badly about you to your kids, it needs to stop. Neither parent should degrade the other when speaking to their kids. Divorces can get very heated, but this emotional poisoning can harm the child. If this is happening, have a direct talk with your spouse and make it clear that this is unacceptable. 

If you’re lucky, maybe your spouse’s off-hand bad joke about you was misquoted by your child. Your spouse may have been talking to someone else, unaware that your kids could hear the remarks. If so, your spouse needs to be more careful.  

If this was an intentional verbal slam or an attempt to harm your relationship with your kids, it needs to stop immediately. Make it clear this won’t be tolerated. If it continues, our office can communicate with your spouse, and if that fails, we can seek a court order prohibiting this from happening and potentially cutting back the time your spouse spends with your kids. 

Are Your Spouse’s Words Harming Your Relationship With Your Child? 

They may have a tough enough time seeing their parents end their relationship. One loved parent telling them their other loved parent is a bad person is not good for anyone. Children need as much peace and certainty in their lives as possible. 

The official term for emotionally manipulating a child against the other parent is “parental alienation.” It, according to Psychology Today, happens when a child refuses to have a relationship with a parent because they’re being manipulated by the other. It can be exaggerating something, telling lies, or saying hateful things.  

Parental alienation can happen during a divorce, but it may take place before one starts or after it’s finalized. It could include emotional blackmail, where one parent threatens to withhold love or attention if the child continues their relationship with the other. A parent may convince a child to make a false claim of abuse or neglect. The parent may make the child promise that these statements and acts are secrets that can’t be revealed. 

What Impact Can Parental Alienation Have? 

As a result, a child may be distraught, confused, angry, sad, and lonely. Children may not understand why they love someone the other parent hates. They may be afraid to speak honestly with the targeted parent and lack evidence that what they’re being told is untrue. In extreme cases, this can impact a child’s relationship with a parent for years. 

Parental alienation can have more than an emotional impact on you and your child. It can affect custody proceedings. If your child is mature enough, a judge may give weight to your child’s opinion on which parent should have what kind of custody. If parental alienation colors that opinion, it can impact your case. If the other parent is interfering with the time you’re allotted with your child, that failure to cooperate can be used against them. 

If you suspect parental alienation is affecting your relationship with your child, please contact us here at Karen A. Ulmer, P.C. We can help clarify what’s going on and stop it. 

Starting a new life during or after a divorce is difficult enough. If one of your beloved children is your spouse’s spy, it can make things that much tougher. You need privacy, though depending on your child’s maturity, you may have a hard time keeping it.

Like so many other issues, you need a frank, adult discussion with your spouse on what is shared by whom and when. This must be tempered by your child’s age, personality, and maturity. What you should expect from a seven-year-old is different from what you should expect from a 17-year-old.

Sharing Too Much is Bad

You should both agree that your kids shouldn’t be telling the two of you details about each other’s lives. You also shouldn’t use your child to collect intelligence on each other nor should you believe everything you hear.

Generally, we want our kids to share. We want them to talk about their day and share their feelings, toys, and time. But they must learn that sometimes sharing is not a good idea. They must understand that some things, like information, shouldn’t always be shared. It may be difficult for a child to draw lines between things they can talk about and what they can’t.

It may not be your spouse bribing your child for the latest dirt. Your child may see it as a game. They have something they think has value, so they may believe they’ll get a treat if they tell it to you. The more you tell them you don’t want to hear it, the more they may want to spill the beans.

The two of you should also agree to communicate things impacting your child openly. It’s one thing to date someone new and maintain your privacy, but if they come to your home and meet your kids, you should let your spouse know what’s happening.

Sometimes, Not Sharing Enough is Bad, and Lying is Never Good

You must clarify to your child that there are still important things to talk about, like if someone is abusing, bullying, or harming them. If you or your spouse is losing control and lashing out at your child or neglecting them, that’s not a secret they should hold. Your child needs to understand which secrets to keep and which ones to divulge.

Telling your child you want to keep your privacy so they shouldn’t disclose some things is one thing. Telling them they should lie to cover something up for you is another. You’re setting an awful example for your child that will come back to haunt you. If you teach your kid it’s okay to lie, that’s a lesson they’ll use for years.

In the future, when you catch your child in a lie and it angers you, who’s to blame? Don’t you think your child will throw back in your face the lessons in lying you taught them? Parents in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

If you are considering getting divorced or need legal representation in a divorce matter, it is critical to get help and guidance from a trusted expert in family law. Contact us here at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C. to see how we can help you.

Distributing assets as part of a divorce can be highly contentious. Emotions are often connected to objects and property. One party may not be able to bear the thought of not having something, or worse, the spouse getting it. Who gets what is best handled like every other divorce dispute: as calmly, professionally, and reasonably as possible. However, too often, that’s easier said than done. 

If you have highly valuable assets, like investments, art, automobiles, or real estate, the process is more complex because their value, which can be disputed, must be determined. You also need to determine the tax impact on a party obtaining an asset. The higher and more complex your income, the more difficult this may be. 

But the same laws about property division will cover you and your spouse whether you have a million or a thousand dollars in the bank, a vacation home in Hawaii, or a ten-year-old camper trailer.  

What’s at Stake? 

Marital property is subject to division, nonmarital property is not. Generally, marital property is acquired by either party during the marriage. It also covers the increased value of nonmarital property. Clarification of which property is what is spelled out in Pennsylvania statute (35 Pa.C.S.A. §3501(a)). In divorces with high-end assets, the stakes are greater when deciding which category applies to property. 

How Would Assets Be Divided? 

Under state statute (35 Pa.C.S.A. §3502(a)), the general rule is that if one or both parties request it, the judge will: 

“…equitably divide, distribute or assign, in kind or otherwise, the marital property between the parties without regard to marital misconduct in such percentages and in such manner as the court deems just after considering all relevant factors. The court may consider each marital asset or group of assets independently and apply a different percentage to each marital asset or group of assets.” 

The relevant factors include: 

  • How long the marriage lasted 
  • Whether either party was married before 
  • The health, age, “station,” source and amount of income, job skills, employability, liabilities, and needs of the parties
  • Whether one party contributed to the training, education, or improved earning power of the other  
  • Each party’s opportunity for acquiring capital assets and income in the future 
  • The parties’ sources of income, including different insurance policies and other benefits 
  • Each party’s role in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation of the property, including a party’s contribution as a homemaker 
  • The standard of living developed during the marriage 
  • The parties’ economic circumstances when the property is divided  
  • The tax impact of distributing or dividing an asset  
  • The cost of selling, transferring, or liquidating an asset  
  • Whether a party will be the custodian of a dependent minor child 

Some of these factors may be critical for you, while others won’t matter. Each case is unique. 

Negotiation is Usually Better Than Litigation 

Like all divorce issues, if you can’t reach an agreement the issue can be litigated, and the court will decide. Negotiation, and failing that – mediation, gives you some control over how the assets are handled. You give that up when the judge makes the decision. 

Negotiation of asset division is often linked with other issues like paying or receiving alimony. You may give up your claims to some assets in exchange for higher alimony or a greater share of liquid assets. For instance, if you choose to walk away from a valuable asset, perhaps your spouse will now pay the entire amount of the cost of your kids’ private and college educations, instead of splitting the cost. 

Selling an asset may be better than a drawn-out tug of war, especially if it has appreciated over time. Starting your life over may be more difficult when your assets are tied up emotionally with your spouse. Maybe taking the money and running are better ways to begin again. 

If you’re thinking about or plan to divorce your spouse, asset division is one of many things you must consider. Contact us here at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., so we can answer your questions and discuss how we can help you.