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.