Property division can be a heavily contested issue during a divorce. Pennsylvania uses an “equitable distribution” approach when dividing marital property and debts. The equitable distribution process does not necessarily mean each spouse obtains an equal share of the marital assets.
The Pennsylvania divorce lawyers at SFS Attorneys outline what equitable distribution means and factors you should know concerning your own divorce.
Equitable Distribution Factors in PA
Under Pennsylvania Law, marital assets are fairly distributed between divorcing spouses. A Court uses neither fault nor marital misconduct when deciding how to fairly divide marital property. Instead, under Section 3502(a) of the Divorce Code, as part of the equitable distribution process, a Court uses 13 factors to fairly divide marital property, including but not limited to:
- The duration of the marriage.
- Each spouses’ prior marriages, if any.
- Each spouses’ health, education, employability, income, and financial needs
- Any contribution by one spouse to the other spouses training, education, or employability.
- Each spouses’ future opportunity to obtain additional wealth, assets, and income.
- Each spouses’ source of income.
- Each spouses’ efforts (including time spent as a homemaker) towards the contribution or dissipation towards the other spouse’s efforts to obtain, preserve or increase the value of the marital property.
- The standard of living achieved during the marriage.
- Each spouses’ financial situation upon the division of any marital property.
- The tax consequences for dividing marital property.
- Which spouse will have primary physical custody of any children.
Our divorce attorneys know how to build strong cases and obtain appropriate property distribution decisions on behalf of our clients. Similarly, our attorneys also know how to successfully defend our clients’ property from being divided unjustly. Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman has spent over 40 years litigating these factors in various Courts throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Equitable Distribution Master Explained
According to Section 3321 of the Divorce Code, Courts in Pennsylvania are empowered to appoint attorneys as “Masters,” i.e., judicial authorities, to adjudicate specific issues in divorce cases. Stated more clearly, a Master will conduct a hearing and may take testimony for the issue of property division in a divorce case.
Marital vs. Non-Marital Property
Simply being married does not entitle one spouse to claim the other spouse’s personal property in the event of a divorce. This is because, as a threshold issue, only marital property is subject to being equitably divided during a divorce. Accordingly, it is essential to correctly classify whether an asset is a marital or non-marital property.
According to Section 3501(a) of the Divorce Code, marital assets including any property acquired by the spouses during the marriage, including personal property, are subject to the equitable distribution process. Common marital assets include homes, real estate, vehicles, jewelry, and furniture. Marital assets can also include financial investments, savings and retirement accounts.
If a spouse purchased or owned property before marrying, it is a non-marital asset which is not subject to the equitable distribution process, i.e., the spouse gets to keep the property. Common non-marital assets include items excluded by pre-nuptial agreements, gifts, and inheritances received by a spouse before or during marriage and which are kept separate from marital assets. If a portion of a non-marital asset increases in value during the marriage, the increase in value may be classified as marital property, e.g., if a husband’s initial non-marital $100,000 investment portfolio increases in value to $125,000 during the marriage, the $25,000 increase is considered marital property and subject to the equitable distribution process.
Marital debts are all types of debts acquired by one or both spouses during the marriage and before the date of separation. These are subject to equitable division by a Court. As equitable division is based on the concept of fairness, it may be possible for one spouse to avoid sharing in a marital debt if it was obtained due to a breach of trust, e.g., a gambling debt. While a Court has the power to direct which spouse is responsible for paying a particular debt, creditors are not obligated to obey this order.
Pennsylvania Equitable Distribution & Children
Child custody can affect how marital assets are equitably distributed in Pennsylvania. It is the final factor used by a Court under Section 3502(a). This does not mean the spouse with primary physical custody is entitled to a larger share but instead means there is an additional factor which the Court must evaluate. These factors are given different weight depending on the facts of each case.
Divorce Settlement Agreements
Depending on each spouses’ financial situation, equitably dividing marital property can prolong and increase the expense of the divorce process. Contested assets and marital debts must be appropriately classified and valued. A Property Settlement Agreement can allow both spouses to avoid the costs associated with protracted litigation and instead enables the spouses to decide how marital property is divided.
Summary of Equitable Distribution in PA
Pennsylvania uses an equitable distribution approach to ensure each spouse receives a fair portion of marital property from the divorce. Equitable distribution can be complex as it involves correctly identifying matrimonial assets and marital debts and fairly dividing the assets and debts based on the factors set forth by Pennsylvania law. Much of the uncertainty surrounding equitable distribution may be avoided if both spouses can reach an amicable agreement without involvement by a Court.
Talk with an Experienced Pennsylvania Divorce Lawyer
One of the most stressful issues in a divorce is how property will be divided. The Pennsylvania divorce attorneys at Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman have spent over 40 years successfully guiding clients through this challenging process. To learn about the representation we can provide, contact us today!