As practitioners, clients often ask us about filing for a "Legal Separation". While Pennsylvania does recognize the term, the "factual" date of separation may be important in valuing assets (non-marital assets are generally valued from date of marriage to date of separation) and for setting the date for when the grounds for a divorce may exist . So, what determines the "date of separation"?

The date of separation is the date upon which it is determined that the parties are living “separate and apart”.  23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3103 defines "separate and apart" as "the cessation of cohabitation, whether living in the same residence or not.  In the event a complaint in divorce is filed and served, it shall be presumed that the parties commenced to live separate and apart not later than the date that the complaint was served".  

Cohabitation is defined as the "mutual assumption of those rights and duties attendant to the right of husband and wife".  Mackey v. Mackey, 545 A.2d. 362 (Pa. Super. 1988). 

When the parties are physically separate, they generally will agree on the date of  separation. However, when the parties reside in the same residence and no divorce complaint has been filed, the court can still determine that the parties live separate and apart. To do so, the courts, on a case-by-case basis, look at some of the following to determine whether parties have been living "separate and apart":

The "spouses’ intent to dissolve the marital relationship must be clearly manifested and communicated to the other spouse, before the spouses can begin to live ‘separate and apart’".  Sinha v. Sinha, 526 A.2d 765 (Pa. 1987)

Some factors which have been considered in determining the parties’ intent have been:

  1. How much time the parties spent at the marital residence.
  2. Whether the parties slept in the same room.
  3. Whether the parties ate meals together.
  4. Whether or not the parties took vacations and outings together and whether or not those outings were for the child’s benefit only.
  5. Whether or not the parties gave the appearance that everything was fine for their child’s sake.
  6. Whether the parties lived separate lives. 
  7. Whether the parties had sexual relations.

Frey v Frey, 821 A.2d 623 (Pa. Super. 2003).  See also Mackey v. Mackey, 545 A.2d. 362 (Pa. Super. 1988).

It is important to advise your clients regarding the date of separation if there are non-marital assets or if the other party will not consent to the divorce.  If you want to make the date of separation clear, the best way to do so is by filing the divorce complaint.