Equitable Distribution in a Pennsylvania Divorce

Hands are tearing marital agreement while discussing equitable distribution of property.

Property division is often one of the most complex — and contentious — issues in a divorce proceeding. While each spouse might believe they are entitled to certain property and assets, it’s important to understand that Pennsylvania follows the rule of equitable distribution. This means that property is not necessarily divided equally between spouses, but in a way the court deems fair.

What Does Equitable Distribution Mean?

Equitable distribution is the principle followed by courts in Pennsylvania that determines how property, assets, and debts should be divided in divorce. It does not mean that property will be divided 50-50 or equally, but rather, it attempts to achieve a fair allocation of property between the spouses.

Significantly, only marital property acquired during the course of the marriage is subject to equitable distribution. Separate property belonging to each spouse before the marriage is usually not divided in divorce, however the increase in value during the marriage may be allocated between the spouses.

What Types of Property Are Subject to Equitable Distribution?

Regardless of the name on the title, any type of property acquired during the marriage can be divided under the Commonwealth’s equitable distribution laws. This can include the marital home, checking accounts, savings accounts, and even the family’s pets. Debts and liabilities are also divided in a Pennsylvania divorce — credit cards, mortgages, loans, and other liabilities acquired during the marriage must be distributed between the spouses before a judge will sign a divorce decree.

Other marital property that may be subject to division in a Pennsylvania divorce can include the following:

  • Bank accounts
  • Income
  • Dividends
  • Cars, boats, and other vehicles
  • Jewelry and art
  • Retirement plans
  • Real estate and vacation properties
  • Furniture
  • Ownership in businesses
  • Pensions

There are several exceptions when it comes to dividing property acquired during the marriage. For example, inheritances and gifts received by one spouse are generally not subject to distribution unless the other spouse increased the value of the asset. Additionally, if a valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement was in place, it would control the issue of property division and override Pennsylvania’s equitable distribution laws.

What Factors Are Considered When Determining Distribution of Marital Property?

A divorce typically will not be granted until all issues concerning property division have been resolved, either through settlement between the parties or based on the court’s order. If the parties cannot reach an agreement concerning how their property should be divided among them, a judge will apply a number of factors to determine how to distribute the assets fairly.

Unlike many people might believe, marital fault is not considered when determining the equitable division of property and assets — but this may be a factor for alimony if marital assets were dissipated in carrying out the marital misconduct.

Specifically, a Pennsylvania court may consider the following factors when determining equitable division of property:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Any prior marriage of either party
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • Each spouse’s source of income, vocational skills, and employability
  • The contribution of one spouse to the increased earning power of the other
  • Each spouse’s opportunity for future acquisitions of assets and income
  • The sources of income of both parties, including medical, retirement, and insurance benefits
  • Each spouse’s contribution or dissipation in the acquisition and preservation of marital property
  • The contributions of a homemaker spouse
  • The value of the property
  • The standard of living of the parties during the marriage
  • The economic circumstances of each party at the time the property division would be effective
  • Tax ramifications
  • The expense associated with the sale or transfer of an asset
  • Whether the party would be serving as the custodial parent

It’s essential to note that spouses are not required to litigate their case in court to achieve a fair division of property. The parties may work to reach a settlement outside of court, either through negotiations with their attorneys, using mediation, or participating in the collaborative divorce process. This can allow them to control the outcome of their case and divide their property in a way that they consider to be fair, instead of allowing a judge who does not know them to determine the matter.

Contact an Experienced Pennsylvania Divorce Attorney

Dividing your property and assets during the divorce process can be complicated and emotionally overwhelming. It’s critical to have an experienced divorce attorney by your side who can ensure your rights are protected and take the burden off your shoulders.

At Berman & Associates, our compassionate and knowledgeable Pennsylvania divorce attorneys are dedicated to helping clients throughout the Commonwealth with a wide variety of matrimonial issues, including those involving equitable distribution. We welcome you to contact us today to schedule a consultation at our Media office.

Categories: Divorce