You and your spouse have separated but never got around to filing for divorce. Suddenly, your ex falls ill and amasses substantial hospital bills, much of which is uncovered by health insurance. Are you legally responsible for these bills despite your separation? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is yes. Here's what you need to know about your responsibilities when separated in Pennsylvania.
Separation in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania does not have a different legal status for married couples who live separately without divorcing. In the eyes of the state, when a couple separates, they retain all the legal privileges and responsibilities of being married until they file for divorce. Since debt accumulated during the marriage is the responsibility of both spouses, if one spouse incurs medical bills while separated, the other spouse remains jointly liable for that debt.
Pennsylvania's approach to separation differs from states where couples can file for “legal separation,” which allows each spouse to be solely responsible for their own debts, although not divorced. For a similar outcome in Pennsylvania, a couple must “live separate and apart” and have filed for divorce. In other words, once the spouses live under separate roofs and have initiated the dissolution of the marriage, the law generally sees each spouse as responsible for their own debt.
Separation Agreements in Pennsylvania
A couple may want to separate without divorcing because they need space, time to think, to keep health insurance coverage, for religious reasons, or for other purposes. Under these circumstances, the couple should create a separation agreement. This agreement is a legally-binding document that sets forth the rights and responsibilities of both spouses during the separation. Among other things, it can establish the terms of child custody, property division, alimony, child support, and how the couple wants to handle paying bills, including both marital debt and debt that might arise during the separation.
Once the parties have signed the separation agreement, both spouses are legally obliged to adhere to its terms. If one spouse defaults on the terms, the other spouse may sue for breach of contract.
If you are concerned about your responsibilities toward any medical bills your spouse might incur during the separation, you should consult a lawyer about drafting a separation agreement as quickly as possible.
Talk to an Experienced Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
If you have separated or are considering separating from your spouse, consulting a knowledgeable Pennsylvania family lawyer is a must. A skilled lawyer, such as Joseph D. Lento, can help minimize the risk that you'll be responsible for your spouse's post-separation debt, medical or otherwise. An experienced lawyer can also help you develop a separation agreement that clarifies your respective rights and responsibilities and stand up in court.
Joseph D. Lento has drafted numerous separation agreements and helped families transition smoothly into their new life. He wants to help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.