Separation and divorce are governed by state law, not federal law, and every state is different when it comes to divorce law. Some states have formal separation proceedings that are different from divorce proceedings; New York is one of those states, but Pennsylvania is not.
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The difference between separation and divorce is really identical to the terminology. Separation almost always means that the people are living in two different households, while divorce means they are filing a divorce lawsuit to have a divorce decree eventually issued whether they are living in different households or not. You do not have to be living in different households in order to pursue a divorce action and you do not have to be separated in order to get divorced. Some couples remain living under the same roof until the divorce is finalized, because they are unable to afford to do anything else. If you are not living in separate households and you are divorcing then some of the issues that usually get resolved early in a divorce might not be resolved early, such as custody and support.
Who will be responsible to pay for our children's needs at this time?
At the time of separation there is usually a custody determination if there are children. Whether or not there are children, at the time of separation there is usually a support determination – child support if there are children and spousal support whether or not there are children. At the time of separation there is usually a division of household goods, furniture and furnishings even if it is a preliminary division. At that time people also usually divide up their vehicle insurance and bank accounts to a degree. They begin running separate lives and no longer co-mingling some of their assets. If you are separated before finishing your divorce, then at the time of separation you have begun the divorce process even if a divorce action has not yet been filed. If you are living in the same household when the divorce action is filed, it begins to blur the line of custody issues
and who has to pay for what bills, because you are generally not allowed to pursue a support proceeding if you are living in the same house. There are exceptions to that statement, but not many.
What are grounds for divorce?
There are three broad categories for divorce grounds in Pennsylvania. The first includes fault grounds where one person has to prove that the other person was absolutely terrible in the marriage and they were at fault and the proving party did virtually nothing wrong. The other two grounds are no-fault grounds. The most prevalent type of a no-fault divorce is a mutual consent no-fault divorce in which a minimum period of 90 days has to pass from the time a divorce action has been filed and served. Any time after that 90-day period, if both parties sign an Affidavit of Consent indicating that the marriage is irretrievably broken, then no-fault grounds are established for a divorce. In a no-fault divorce case, there are many times where the other party will not file the Affidavit of Consent for various reasons. The reason separation is important in divorce is because if you do not have fault grounds and you cannot get the other side to file an affidavit of consent, then the only way to get a divorce in Pennsylvania is if you have lived separate and apart for a continuous period of at least two years. If you have not been separated for at least two years and you cannot get a mutual consent affidavit signed and you do not have fault grounds, then you cannot get a divorce in Pennsylvania.
What should I do if I am/my spouse is considering divorce?
If you have already decided that divorce is inevitable, then you should begin talking to a divorce attorney about what happens when you file and what the probable outcome may be. You also need to find out what information that attorney is going to require in order to represent you properly. If you are uncertain whether or not you are ready to begin the divorce process, we may recommend that you seek a counselor, therapist, marital mediation or trial separation. At Elderkin Law Firm we believe it is our job, as matrimonial attorneys, to know when to exercise our position as advocates or as counselors to assure that you are making the best decision.
When can I file for divorce?
There is a six-month residency requirement in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There are also jurisdictional and venue requirements that may have to be addressed in order to determine in what county you are able to file for a divorce.
Who should I first consult when I am considering a divorce?
It depends on what you are looking for, and if you are a little unsure about getting a divorce then consult with a divorce lawyer first. A divorce lawyer will have a list of resources available, such as accountants, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and SafeNet.
How much does a divorce cost?
Cost is determined by how much time you are going to require an attorney to invest. If you are looking to divorce and there are no assets, no children or no support issues then a lawyer can comfortably quote a flat fee to you, because they have a ballpark idea to how much time they will have to put in. If you have minor children and there will be a custody case, a child support case, and maybe a spousal support case, then the level of complexity of assets may require a level of discovery. If negotiation is not possible, then you will have to take the issue to trial. Your lawyer will charge you hourly for whatever time is invested, and a retainer may be required. The fees that are charged by the attorneys at the Elderkin Law Firm are commensurate with the market, as well as their experience, credentials and abilities.
How will our assets be divided?
Pennsylvania does not have an equal distribution of property, like many states. Pennsylvania has what is called an Equitable Distribution of Marital Property, which may or may not be a 50/50 division. We have a set of factors that are applied, but the factors are subjective and when we deal with subjective factors we also deal with subjective analysis, meaning you have different perspectives depending on who it is that you are representing. There is no real set formula, which is why it can become so complicated. One side may think assets should be 50/50 while the other side may believe there is disparity in the factors that justify a 55%/45% or 60%/40% split. Different assets may have different percentage splits. There are also a number of asset categories that can be excluded from marital properties which are part of an individual assessment.
How long does it take to get a divorce?
If it is a relatively uncomplicated divorce, it can take anywhere from 3-6 months. If it is a measurably more complicated, or a hotly contested divorce, then it could take a year and a half to four years.