Dividing Property in a Divorce

Is Pennsylvania an equitable distribution state?

When a couple divorces in Pennsylvania, the marital property will be divided according to state’s equitable distribution law. This means the court will divide the property fairly, but this does not necessarily mean equally.

What is marital property?

Marital property includes property that was purchased by each spouse during the marriage (regardless of who held title), property that was acquired by the couple while they were married (such as a house or car), and retirement benefits that each spouse earned during the marriage.

Finally, small businesses and professional practices are also subject to the equitable distribution laws. For all intents and purposes, however, the court typically awards the business or practice to the spouse who runs the entity. In which case, the other spouse will receive additional property, or a cash payment, to make up the difference.

In short, only marital property is subject to the equitable distribution laws of Pennsylvania, and each spouse will retain his or her separate property. This includes property that was  acquired by either spouse before marriage, property that was received individually as an inheritance or gift, and any property under a valid pre-marital agreement.

How is equitable distribution determined?

Some of the factors involved in reaching a fair distribution include what each spouse contributed to the marriage and what each will need in the future. In particular, the court will consider each spouses income and property during the marriage, the duration of the marriage, each spouses age and health, whether a spouse with custody of minor children will continue to live in the family home, and whether one of the parties will be receiving alimony.

In addition, the court may consider contributions to the other spouse’s earning potential, such as  working to put the other spouse through school, the pension, health insurance, and inheritance rights either spouse will lose as a result of the divorce, the tax consequences to each spouse, the probable future financial circumstances of each spouse and any other factor the court determines to be just and proper consideration.

In sum, the state’s equitable distribution laws are complicated, and these matters often become contentious in a divorce proceeding. For this reason, anyone considering a divorce should consult with an experienced matrimonial attorney.