The divorce process can be stressful and confusing. While it may be obvious your marriage is over, it is important to understand when you and your spouse began living “separate and apart” if you are seeking a divorce on the basis of your marriage being irretrievably broken. The Philadelphia divorce lawyers at Schwartz, Fox, & Saltzman can guide you through the Pennsylvania divorce process and ensure your legal rights and financial interests are protected.
This article discusses how Pennsylvania law interprets the phrase “separate and apart” as it relates to divorce.
What “Separate & Apart” Means in a Pennsylvania Divorce
When a couple decides to divorce in Pennsylvania, they must establish a date of separation, which is the point in time when they begin living “separate and apart.” The phrase “separate and apart” does not necessarily mean spouses live in different homes. Instead of allowing parties to be legally separated, Pennsylvania law defines couples as living “separate and apart” when they are living separate lives.
Pennsylvania Does Not Have Legal Separation
Unlike other states, Pennsylvania does not have a legal separation process for divorce. Instead of a formal process to obtain a legal separation, the concept of “separate and apart” is used to determine when a couple’s joint accumulation of assets ended for the purposes of divorce proceedings. While §3103presumes the date of separation as the date a divorce complaint is served by one party on the other party, this presumption can be rebutted if one spouse can show they began to live “separate and apart” at an earlier or different date.
Does “Separate & Apart” Require Living in Separate Places?
No, physical separation is not necessary to establish “separate and apart” when filing a divorce complaint in Pennsylvania. A couple can live “separate and apart” even if they continue to live in the marital home as long as they are no longer engaging in a marital relationship. However, it can be more difficult to prove separation if the couple still lives in the same residence.
Can You Live “Separate & Apart” in the Same House?
Yes. Living “separate and apart” in the same residence is possible when a couple separates. However, longstanding Pennsylvania case law requires married couples to live completely separate lives or else they remain not separated.
Does Sleeping in Separate Rooms Count as “Separate & Apart?”
Sleeping in separate bedrooms is insufficient to establish “separate and apart.” As the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania noted, “the ties that bind two individuals in a marital relationship involve more than sexual intercourse.” Instead, the court specifically looks at whether spouses are living as a married couple as opposed to sleeping in the same bedroom or living in the same home.
Evidence the Court Looks for for “Separate & Apart”
Courts use various factors to determine when a couple began living “separate and apart”. No one factor is dispositive. Specifically, courts look at:
- Sleep arrangements.
- Eating arrangements.
- Recreational activities.
- Living expenses
- How a couple presents themselves, e.g., appearing married for their child’s sake.
- The amount of time spent at the marital residence.
The Date of Separation
As there is no legal separation in Pennsylvania, the date of separation is significant for a divorce based on irretrievable breakdown. This is because it determines when marital property and debts stop accumulating. Additionally, the date of separation also determines the one-year waiting period, which is required under §3301(d).
How Talking with a Divorce Lawyer Helps in Determining “Separate & Divorce”
Consulting with a divorce attorney can help you understand the legal requirements for “separate and apart” and how to provide evidence to the court. Stated simply, an experienced Philadelphia divorce lawyer may be able to help you establish an earlier or later date of separation which can allow you to divorce your spouse earlier and obtain a favorable decision concerning the division of marital property, spousal support, and debts. Contact Schwartz, Fox, & Saltzman to learn how you can use our 40-plus years of experience to your benefit.
Summary of What “Separate & Apart” Means in Pennsylvania Divorce
“Separate and apart” is a legal term used in Pennsylvania law to determine when a couple’s joint accumulation of assets ends for the purposes of divorce proceedings. Living in separate places is not always necessary, but the court considers various factors to determine if a married couple is truly separated. Determining when a couple began living separately and apart is important as it can affect the date of separation and the division of marital assets.