Love in the time of …. COVID-19?

If, like almost all Americans at some point in the last three months, you have found yourself quarantined with your spouse for better or worse—keep reading. If you have discovered that the time together has rekindled your marital bliss—stop reading. However, if this time together (or apart) has not pushed you in a direction, opposite of divorce, you are not alone. You may be wondering, what now?  

If you have found yourself googling “How to get a divorce” or have questions about Divorce in Pennsylvania, be wary of some misinformation out there. To name a few

  • There is no “automatic” Divorce in Pennsylvania.

A lot of people confuse Pennsylvania’s 90-day waiting period with “after 90 days, I’m divorced.” That is not true. Pennsylvania requires that a party wait a period of 90 days from the date of service of the Divorce Complaint on the other party, before either of you can even think of asking for a Decree in Divorce (the piece of paper that says you are Divorced) from the Court. This applies to a No-Fault “Consent” Divorce under 3301(c) of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code. There are other nuances for other means of Divorce such as under 3301(d) of the Divorce Code. You should ask an experienced Pennsylvania licensed Family Law attorney for more information about those nuances, or your specific situation.

  • If you think you want a “legal separation” –  just move forward with a Divorce.

Controversial topic, but in my opinion, there is no such thing as a “legal separation.” There is likely little benefit to having a document state you are “legally separated”, but not obtain an actual Divorce. When you and your spouse separate, at some point it should be clear whether there will, or will not, be a reconciliation. For purposes of a Divorce action, the sooner you know, the better. In a Pennsylvania Divorce action we look at what existed as of the date of marriage to the date of separation. There are certain rules as to how different types of property is treated, but by and large, those are two of the most important dates for valuation purposes. What you will need for purposes of Divorce are statements, documents, and the like as of “date of separation.” Therefore, the sooner in time you know what that date is, typically the easier it is to obtain those pertinent documents and information. If you “separate” from your spouse, but do not seek a Divorce until years later, it will be that much more difficult to go back in time and figure out how to divide any assets and debts.

  • Your adulterous spouse does not get less of the assets of the marriage because of their conduct.

To divide the assets and debts in a Pennsylvania Divorce action, the Court looks to a set of factors. 23 Pa. C.S. §3502. The “fancy” term that you’ve likely heard for dividing your assets and debts is, “Equitable Distribution.” Be aware that “equitable” does not always mean “equal.” Also, there is no equitable distribution factor that punishes a spouse for cheating or having an affair. There may, however, be implications in other areas such as spousal support or alimony. You should always speak with an experienced Family Law attorney about your situation.

Typically, the first step in a Pennsylvania Divorce action is to file a Divorce Complaint in the appropriate county. Upon filing, the Divorce Complaint becomes a public record. After filing, it must be served upon the other party and there must be proof that that party received the documents. If there are assets and debts to divide, the next step is typically an “information-gathering” phase. This may be through formal discovery or through amicable sharing of documents and information between the parties and counsel. Once the parties have been apprised of what there is (or is not) to divide or settle upon, negotiations can start. All items, accounts, properties, etc. of the marriage, or in joint names, need to be discussed and dealt with accordingly. Brace yourself—this can be time-consuming, but it is absolutely necessary that your Divorce leave you free and clear of any further entanglement from your ex-spouse. You want a comprehensive Agreement (sometimes called a Marriage Settlement Agreement or Property Settlement Agreement) to cover each and every item in case of any future discrepancies. Should you and your spouse, either through counsel, or on your own, be unable to come to an Agreement, your divorce would typically proceed to the Divorce Master. If you are still reading this, you should be seeking a consultation with an experienced local family law attorney.

            There are a number of moving parts in a Pennsylvania Divorce action. Whether you have significant assets, or none at all, the attorneys at MOBILIO WOOD will devise a strategy that suits your needs and moves your Divorce along as efficiently as possible.