Separation of Married Couples
If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on separation, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral & Information Service.
It is not unusual for a couple to physically separate during marital difficulties. However, there is no such thing as a legal separation in Pennsylvania. This means that the parties do not have to go to Court for an order authorizing or evidencing their desire to live in separate places. There is no legal requirement that a husband and wife be separated for a period of time to file for a divorce. There is no requirement that a divorce be immediately instituted upon separation. However, once parties have lived separate and apart for a period of one year (two years if separation occurred before December 5, 2016), one party may seek a divorce without having to obtain the consent of the other party.
Pennsylvania law views people as either married or single. Rights created by marriage can only be disposed of by divorce.
Although people may live in separate residences, both may continue to be fully responsible for all debts incurred during the marriage. This means that both may be responsible for 100% of the debt, not just one half. If a joint bill does not get paid, the creditor will look to the party who has resources to pay, not just the party who may have possession of the particular asset involved.
Separated spouses may also be responsible for the necessities of the other. For example, a husband or wife may be responsible for medical expenses of the other even though the parties have been separated for a period of time.
A spouse may be legally required to support the other spouse during a period of separation. The concept of spousal support is dealt with much as child support, except that the independent spouse may challenge the right of the dependent spouse to financial assistance. A petition for spousal support or child support or both may be filed without the assistance of an attorney at the Erie County Support Office in the Erie County Courthouse. A conference will be scheduled for you and you have the right to have a lawyer represent you.
Both parties usually have the legal right to continue to live at the marital residence. If one spouse is physically or verbally abuse to the other spouse or the parties' children, the court may order the abusive spouse to leave the martial home under Protection from Abuse order.
The repercussions of separation affect more than a husband and wife. If the parties have children, provisions must be made for custody and child support. The law does not require that the parties litigate these issues, but the courts provide remedies if the parents cannot agree.
Information is current as of 2/2019.