There is some confusion when it comes to separation relating to divorce. Many people consider legal separation as a divorce alternative. But no such status exists in Pennsylvania. Still, the “separation date” is a crucial aspect of your divorce.
The separation date marks when you and your spouse began living as separate individuals – no longer identifying as a married couple. It’s possible that this end-of-marriage date is valid before you or your soon-to-be-ex move out of the marital home.
Why the separation date is important
Pennsylvania law defines the separation date as when married couples begin living separate and apart or “cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not.” The date is crucial because it:
- Sets the end date for valuing marital assets, such as bank accounts, real estate, stock and other assets
- Starts the clock for obtaining an uncontested divorce, which is 90 days
- Provides the final date for determining marital vs. individual debts
There are two caveats to those two final points. First, marital debts are generally those you and your spouse have accrued from the date of your marriage to the separation date. Secondly, if your spouse contests the divorce, you must wait two years from the separation date unless you pursue a fault-based divorce.
What happens when the separation date is contested?
Courts determine the separation date when spouses disagree about when they began living apart. Judges consider many factors, such as:
- When either of you opened a separate bank account
- The day when one or both of you moved out
- When you stopped having sexual relations
- When you stopped wearing wedding rings
- The date a will was updated
- When you stopped referring to yourselves as married
Mistakes over setting a separation date can be emotionally and financially costly. You might be responsible for sharing your spouse’s debts during the time you considered yourself separated. Errors can also result in the divorce process taking longer. It’s advisable to consult an experienced attorney to ensure that all your legal bases are covered.