Divorce & Legal Separation Laws in Pennsylvania

By Beverly Bird

Technically, Pennsylvania’s statutes contain no mention of "legal separation." This is a bit misleading, however, because the state does recognize at least the concept of legal separation. If you and your spouse can agree to the terms of your separation in a written agreement, the state considers it binding upon both of you.

Technically, Pennsylvania’s statutes contain no mention of "legal separation." This is a bit misleading, however, because the state does recognize at least the concept of legal separation. If you and your spouse can agree to the terms of your separation in a written agreement, the state considers it binding upon both of you.

Separation as Divorce Ground

Chapter 23, Section 3103 of the Pennsylvania Code indicates that your separation begins when you stop living together as husband and wife. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to take up residence in different households. It means that you’ve ceased to behave as spouses. You don’t sleep together, take your meals together or socialize together. You may reside in the same home, but you have no relationship; you just cross paths. When this has been the case for two years, it becomes a no-fault ground for divorce, even if one of you doesn’t want the divorce. If your spouse doesn’t want to part ways, he can contest your ground if he can prove that at some point during those two years, you behaved as though you still had a marital relationship.

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Separation Agreements

While you are separated, Pennsylvania law allows you to resolve all issues between you in a separation agreement. The scope of such an agreement is virtually the same as a divorce decree, but it is somewhat more flexible. For example, you can divide property for the time being and state in the agreement that the arrangement is only temporary until you divorce, or you can make it permanent. You can set terms for custody, visitation, child support and even alimony in the same way. You can designate that you’re going to renegotiate these issues when and if you divorce, or that they're permanent and will be incorporated into a divorce decree at some point. A separation agreement is a contract between you, so the court can enforce it if necessary.

Fault Grounds

You don’t have to separate to file for divorce in Pennsylvania; the state also offers several fault grounds. These include cruelty, bigamy, adultery, imprisonment of your spouse or his institutionalization for mental incapacity. The state also offers a ground for “personal indignities.” If you choose imprisonment; your spouse must serve at least a two-year sentence, and if you choose mental incapacity, your spouse must be institutionalized for 18 months and not likely to recover in the 18 months after you file. You can file on one of the other grounds immediately, but if you do it in the heat of anger, and if the court suspects this, a judge can order a 90-day delay in the proceedings to allow you to time to think things through. If you decide to proceed on a fault ground, you must prove to the court that your spouse’s bad behavior caused your marriage to end and that you were injured by his actions, either physically or mentally.

Agreed Divorce

Pennsylvania offers one other no-fault option for divorce. If both you and your spouse don't want to wait out a two-year separation or use a fault ground, you can file on the ground that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” If you both sign an affidavit of consent that you agree on this, you can usually be divorced within a few months if you have an agreement on all issues.

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Arkansas Laws for Separation

References

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North Carolina Law for Marriage Separation

Divorcing in North Carolina can be very easy or very confusing, but the confusion arises mostly if you try to compare this state's laws with others. If you need the court to resolve certain issues -- such as property division -- you must specifically request this before divorcing. After the divorce is granted, the court will address these other issues as needed. When separation is your grounds for divorce, you must only live separate and apart for 366 days.

How Long After a Separation Can You Obtain a Divorce?

If your state accepts separation as grounds for divorce, this is one of the easiest grounds on which to file, because it is usually indisputable. In most cases, one spouse stays in the marital residence and the other moves elsewhere. You don’t have to go to excessive lengths to prove your spouse guilty of any particular misconduct. However, you can’t separate and file for divorce a week later. All states require that you remain separated for a while before you can file.

Can You Get Divorced in Maryland While Living Together?

Although Maryland technically recognizes no-fault divorce, Maryland's laws are not as progressive as some other states'. Even with legislation updated in October 2011, living together while you wait for your no-fault divorce to conclude is almost impossible under Maryland's laws. However, you may have other options if it’s just not feasible for you or your spouse to relocate to another residence.

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