Pennsylvania divorce and legal separation law

By submitting this form, you agree to Findlaw. We respect your privacy. A legal separation , is a court order that mandates the rights and duties of a couple while they are still married, but living apart; in a divorce, the spouses are no longer married. Although legal separations aren't very common, they can be helpful especially while the spouses work through any personal or financial issues affecting the marriage.

Because there are advantages and disadvantages to both processes, there are many things to consider when contemplating legal separation vs. There are key differences between a separation and divorce. The most basic and obvious distinction is that you remain married during a legal separation and in a divorce, your marriage is dissolved.

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Legal Separation vs. Divorce

Other differences include:. In both divorce proceedings and in the proceedings for legal separation, the court decides the following:. Circumstances may arise that lead to couples living apart with no intent to continue the marriage. Additionally, some states have laws that require couples seeking to file a no-fault divorce to live apart for a designated period of time.


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Living separately can affect the property division. Property and debt acquired while living separately is classified differently depending on where the couple lives. Some states determine the property classification based on whether either spouse has the intent to end the marriage. Couples can also have a trial separation, but it has no real legal effect and is viewed only in terms of time in the couple's marriage. Any property or debt acquired during a trial separation is still considered to be acquired during marriage and therefore, likely marital property.

Once a couple decides to separate for good, they have a permanent separation. A person asking for alimony must request it as part of a divorce action before the court finally grants the divorce. If you don't, you can never come back and ask the court to order it. After alimony is granted, a person loses the right to continue getting it if he or she remarries or lives together as husband and wife with a person of the opposite sex.

Either spouse also can get a court order for temporary support until the court grants a divorce. Under this temporary order a spouse may also receive attorney's fees, medical insurance coverage, and other expenses. Marital property generally means all property acquired during the marriage. Marital property includes the increase in the value of any property which one spouse acquired before the marriage or acquired by gift or inheritance, but not the property itself.

It does not matter if the title to the property is in the name of only one spouse. A couple can agree to divide their property in any way they choose. They may have the court make the agreement part of the court order. Except in unusual cases such as fraud, the court cannot modify a property division agreement as long as the parties fully disclosed their financial situations to each other and entered into the agreement knowingly and voluntarily.

An agreement can be a good idea because it potentially saves parties money, time, and aggravation. However, if no agreement is possible, either spouse can ask the court to divide the marital property in a fair way. In deciding how to divide the marital property the court will consider many factors, such as the number of children, the parties' health, earning capacity, education, and their standard of living. The court has the right to give more of the marital property to one party than to the other. As with alimony, a request that the court divide marital property must be made as part of the divorce action before the court finally grants the divorce.

Unlike alimony and marital property, child support and custody do not have to be included in a divorce action.

Separation as Divorce Ground

These matters can be decided at any time, and in separate court actions. But if either party wishes, child support and custody can be included in a divorce case. A couple can make a written agreement about child support and custody and then have the court make the agreement part of a court order. If the parents cannot agree, either party can ask the court to decide these matters. Either party may ask the court to modify a child support or custody order at any time if it is in the child's best interest.

For more information about Child Support and Child Custody, see separate brochures on these subjects.

One of the purposes of the divorce law is to protect and preserve the family, especially where there are children. Therefore, the court can order counseling if either party requests it. Some courts also require the parties to attend a seminar about how to help children deal with divorce.

Separation Agreements

The costs of a divorce vary. Every court charges for bringing a divorce action. There may be additional costs where there must be hearings about alimony, support, or marital property. These costs can be very high. Private attorneys also charge fees, which can vary widely. A person who cannot afford to pay court costs can ask the court to be excused from paying them. The court may grant the request if the person has a low income and little money to pay court costs. In some cases, the court may order one spouse to pay the other's reasonable attorney's fees.


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The law often changes. Each case is different. This pamphlet is meant to give you general information and not to give you specific legal advice.

Does Legal Separation Exist in Pennsylvania? | Pennsylvania No Fault Divorce Lawyer

Please use the information found in this brochure carefully since the law is constantly changing and the information may not accurately reflect any changes in the law that occurred following the creation and publication of the brochure. Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, Inc. The Internal Revenue Service is joining an international coalition in launching the second annual International Charity Fraud Awareness Week to raise awareness and share practices to help charities and other not-for-profit organizations avoid fraud and stop financial crime.

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