I've recently decided to get a divorce. Do I need to file for separation?

Whether you've been considering a divorce for some time, are just starting the process, or your spouse has just informed you they'd like a divorce, you're probably feeling overwhelmed. A lot of new clients aren't sure of the first steps when they're starting the divorce process and ask questions like:

"I've just decided to get a divorce. What do I do first? Do I have to file for legal separation?"

In Pennsylvania, there is no single document to file with the court to be considered "separated." Instead, the court takes into account a bunch of different factors in how you and your spouse have been living your lives to decide when you began living "separate and apart." However, it is important to note the date of separation for legal reasons, like splitting your assets or establishing the timeline for a no-fault divorce after a one-year separation period. Every marriage is unique, and so is every divorce. You might have an obvious date of separation, such as if one spouse moved out of the marital home, served the other divorce papers, or stated to the other spouse they would like to be separated or divorced. After the separation date, make sure you document your spending and your spouse's spending, if possible, because any money spent from joint accounts may have to be paid back after the divorce is final.


If you don't have a clear separation date, the court will determine when you began to live "separate and apart," meaning you no longer acted like a married couple. This doesn't mean you have to literally live in separate homes. As long as the relationship is somewhat amicable, a lot of divorcing couples live together before the divorce is finalized to ease the transition for their children or save money. If you don't have a clear date of separation, the court will determine a separation date by considering when you began:

  • eating meals separately

  • living or sleeping in separate parts of the home

  • dividing your finances

  • ceasing sexual relations

Unfortunately, sometimes the period when you are separated but not officially divorced is more contentious. We can help if you need to file a protection from abuse order. Some people need to petition the court while they're separated for temporary orders for custody, visitation, spousal support, or child support.


Please contact us at Ruppert Law Firm if you need help filing for temporary support or if you have other questions about your legal rights during the separation period. Getting divorced is hard. Being divorced is good. We'll get you through it.