What You Need to Know about Separation in Pennsylvania
Are you struggling in your marriage? Does it feel like you need some time to sort things out? Are you uncertain what happens when you file for legal separation instead of divorce? Here are some answers to basic questions about separation in Pennsylvania.
Q: What is a legal separation agreement?
A: A separation agreement is essentially a contract that sets forth the rights and responsibilities of the parties. It typically addresses custody and visitation, support, and the division of marital debts and assets. There is no requirement in Pennsylvania that the separation agreement be approved by the court.
Q: Do you need a legal separation agreement?
A: No. It’s not a legal requirement, but it is generally a good idea. Just because you haven’t filed
for a divorce yet doesn’t mean that there aren’t differences that need to be addressed in writing. Issues such as custody and support, who will have possession of marital assets and who will have responsibility for marital debts—all are less problematic if laid out in writing.
Q: Can the court invalidate a separation agreement?
A: Yes. If the court has reasonable belief that the agreement was entered into because of coercion, duress, undue influence, fraud, ignorance or lack of mental capacity, the court may rule that it is inapplicable. This rarely happens, though, as it can be extremely difficult to prove.
Q: Can the court unilaterally modify a separation agreement?
A: Unless the terms of the agreement address children or child custody, the answer is generally no. The only instance where that might happen is where a separation agreement is incorporated into a divorce decree.
Q: Can the parties make any agreement they choose regarding minor children?
A No. The court always has the discretion to change the terms of a separation agreement to protect the best interests of minor children.
Q: Can you collect alimony pursuant to a legal separation? If so, how much?
A: To collect spousal support, you must live in a separate household from your spouse, but it is permitted during a legal separation (no need to file a divorce complaint). As a general rule, the spouse with the higher income must pay either 40% of the difference between the parties’ wages (if there are no children) or 30% of the difference less any child support payments made.