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Do you need a separation agreement prior to filing for divorce?

In order to obtain a divorce in Pennsylvania, you must separate from your spouse for at least 90 days for an uncontested divorce and two years for a contested divorce. A lot can happen in those periods that could put your post-divorce financial life at risk.

Even though Pennsylvania does not recognize legal separation, you may still enter into a separation agreement to resolve some issues prior to filing for divorce. In addition, since your separation date is vitally important in the process, you can clearly identify it in such an agreement in order to avoid any confusion later.

Protecting your finances with a separation agreement

By cementing your separation date in writing, a separation agreement could provide you with the following benefits:

  • It identifies a date for valuing the marital assets.
  • You can identify what property each party takes with him or her.
  • If your future former spouse incurs any debts after the separation date, the court will consider them separate debts, so you should not end up responsible for them.
  • You can outline responsibility for certain expenses during the separation. For instance, you can determine how to pay for housing, utilities, joint debts and more.
  • If you retain joint accounts during the separation, you can put some rules regarding those accounts into your separation agreement. For instance, if you decide to use a joint deposit account to cover household expenses during this time, you can outline how much each party puts in the account and what expenses those funds will cover.
  • If you have children, you can outline who spends time with the children and when.
  • You could even agree on certain support amounts that may apply only during the separation.

If needed, you can address other issues in your separation agreement as well. The key is to protect yourself during a time when you are still legally married but living apart. The court is not involved in this stage of your divorce, so it does not need to review and approve your separation agreement. However, if you find that the agreements you made work well, you could make them permanent.

Even though this agreement does not receive court approval, it does not mean it isn't legally binding on both of you. It constitutes a contract, which means that if you draft and execute it in accordance with state law, it can be enforced in court. For this reason and more, you may want to involve an attorney in its preparation and execution.


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