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Important Dates for Defining Marital Property

There is often a misconception that assets and debts individual names will not be divided as part of a divorce action. This is simply not true. Section 3501 of the Divorce Code defines marital property as anything acquired by either party from the date of marriage up to the date of final separation. It also includes any increase in value on pre-marital assets. In the event of reconciliation after separation, the time frame for items acquired during the marriage and ultimately subject to distribution would change as the Divorce Code refers to final separation as the date to consider when determining the marital estate.

Case law has distinguished what actions/behavior will be considered a successful reconciliation, hence eliminating any prior date of separation for cut-off of the marital estate, versus those actions/behavior that will not change the initial separation date. Separation for the purposes of divorce is defined as the "complete cessation of any and all cohabitation." Cohabitation, though not specifically defined in the Divorce Code, is generally understood to be living and dwelling together as husband and wife with the mutual assumption of all marital rights, duties and obligations.

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Mere attempts at reconciliation likely do not change the date of separation for the purposes of divorce. There must be more than just remaining in the same house overnight or for the weekend or taking a week long trip together. Even isolated instances of sexual relations do not mark successful reconciliation.  The court will examine the facts of the reconciliation to determine if it was a full-blown resumption of the marital relationship which would potentially result in a different date of separation or alternatively, treat the failed attempt as further evidence that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the divorce should proceed on the initial separation date. In Britton v. Britton, 400 Pa. Super. 43 (1990) a reconciliation did defeat the period of separation when the reconciliation lasted three months, the parties resumed living together, ceased to maintain separate residences, jointly purchased a townhome, shared the same bedroom, engaged in sexual relations, shared a joint bank account and had a social life as husband and wife.

Click here to read more about equitable distribution of marital property.

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