April 6, 2020 | By Julie R. Colton

Separating from your spouse is never easy.  It is emotionally difficult as you adjust to a new normal and set new boundaries with your spouse.  You might be adjusting to a new custody schedule, or new financial situation.  Separation is often more difficult when you remain in the same house as your spouse.  The stress of the separation is increased when you see your former partner every day.  It is harder to set boundaries and separate the relationship.  You still have to negotiate physical space with your spouse. 

Separation is the end of the marital relationship.  You do not file for legal separation in Pennsylvania.  Separation is a legal concept here, but does not require paperwork. Preserving the date can be important.   Your date of separation starts the clocking on a waiting period needed for your marriage to be deemed irretrievably broken.  Your date of separation sets boundaries on what assets are considered to be marital. 

Consider these five tips if you are separating from your spouse without moving out.   

  1. Clear separation:

You want to make it clear you separated.  You can file and serve a divorce complaint to preserve your date of separation.  It is not always a good idea to rush into the court and file the divorce complaint.  There are legal aspects that should be discussed before filing for divorce.  There can be stress and safety concerns about filing a divorce complaint when in the same house. 

If you do not file a divorce complaint, you can still create separation while under the same roof.  Creating a physical separation can help.  One of you can move to a different bedroom, or different floor of the house.  Ground rules can be negotiated about a shared bedroom. You may set a schedule for caring for the children.

You should tell your spouse that you intend this change to be a separation and you no longer want to be married.  It helps to follow up that conversation with an email to him/her emphasizing the desire to separate and your desire to not be married.  It might sound a bit formal and awkward, but the email works like a receipt. The email is evidence to show the court your clear intent in the event there is ever a fight over the date of separation. 

  1. Finances and Bills

You should consider how you are going to handle finances.  Will you just keep doing the same as before your separation?  Will you divide bills? Or divide bank accounts? You want to keep track of who is paying what bills.  You also want to track what source of funds you are using to pay the bills.  Paperwork is going to be your best friend.  The paperwork does not need to be paper.  You can save electronic copies of statements, bills, and payment receipts.

Locate a copy of your most recent tax return.  Locate copies of recent paystubs for both parties.  Keep paper or electronic copies of these documents in a safe place. 

  1. Assets

You will eventually need a clear picture of your financial position as of the date of separation.  The more you can collect at the time of separation, the better prepared you will be.  You want a statement from every account and debt from around the time of the separation.  Once you have this snapshot, you want to make sure that you continue to maintain documents about the assets and debts.  Again, they do not need to be physical paper copies. They can be electronic copies stored on your computer or the cloud. 

If you are unaware or do not have access to the asset and debt information, then make a list of what you do know.  If financial mail comes for your ex, do not open it, but do make note of the financial institution or take a picture of the envelope.

Get a credit report.  Not your credit score, just the credit report.  You only need one from one reporting agency.  Check it for accounts you are unfamiliar with accounts you have forgotten about.  Keep a copy of this report in a safe place.  The report is a snapshot of the debts that are in your name and that may be marital. 

  1. Plan

You should consult a lawyer prior to the separation.  Review the possible outcomes of divorce and separation.  Work with the lawyer to create a plan for implementing the separation.  Consider what might make your separation easier or better for your family.  

This might be hard to do if you are sharing a roof with your spouse.  It is even more difficult when you are staying at home with your children and/or spouse.  You might want to schedule a call with your lawyer during a walk outside or you are running to the grocery store.  You might need to make the call while your spouse is on a conference call, taking a shower, or out for a run.  Do not be afraid to reschedule a meeting with your lawyer if the time does not work anymore.  Just give the lawyer advance notice you will be changing the time.  If you cannot give advance notice, then explain why you missed the meeting as soon as you can. 

  1. Confidentiality

When talking to a lawyer, a friend, or making plans you may be discussing confidential information. At the time or separation you should change the passwords to your individual online accounts (both email and financial).  You should also check to see if you are sharing information with your spouse via a cloud, cell phone plan or shared computer.  If so, you want to take steps to keep confidential information from being unexpectedly shared with your spouse. 

Remember that social media is not private.  Even private or direct messages on social media can end up public or subpoenaed by your spouse’s lawyer.  To be safe, do not discuss your divorce or separation on social media. 


 If you want to separate from your spouse, do so thoughtfully.  Contact a lawyer to help make sure your separation goes smoothly. 

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Julie Colton - Pittsburgh Family Law Mediation

Julie R. Colton


Pittsburgh Family Law Attorney   Julie focuses her practice on family law matters including divorce, child custody, support, asset division, prenuptial agreements, and international custody. Julie also has experience in family law...

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