Equitable Division Laws
Because divorce laws vary from state to state, it can be confusing to understand how the courts divide marital property when spouses end a marriage. In Pennsylvania, the law requires the “equitable division of marital property.” It is important that you hire an attorney who has experience in the state and county where the divorce is being filed.
What Is Equitable Division of Marital Property?
Property, both real and personal, and debts that legally belong to both spouses are called “marital property.” Not all property is considered marital property. Each spouse may have separate property not subject to division during a divorce (such as a family trust, a pension, or other assets) or personal debt predating the marriage (such as student loans or child support obligations). A spouse’s pre-marital assets, however, may have a marital component. ssets considered marital property, however, are divided between the parties during a divorce. Debts that are shared obligations are also allocated between them.
In many states, the courts employ a 50/50 “equal division” or “community property” approach, giving each spouse an equal value of marital property. Pennsylvania, however, utilizes “equitable division.” Essentially, the court divides the marital property (both assets and liabilities) in a manner that it decides is fair or equitable. What the court decides is equitable may or may not be an equal division of assets and debt between the parties.
How Does the Court Decide What is Equitable?
The law gives the court the authority to decide what is fair and equitable when it divides marital property. While the court may not consider marital misconduct, the law specifically sets out several factors that the court must consider. These include:
- The length of the marriage.
- Any prior marriage of either party.
- The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, and needs of each party.
- The contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other party.
- The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income.
- The sources of income of both parties, including but not limited to medical, retirement, insurance, or other benefits.
- The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker.
- The value of the property set apart to each party.
- The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.
- The economic circumstances of each party when the division of property is to become effective.
- The federal, state, and local tax ramifications associated with each asset to be divided, distributed or assigned, when the ramifications need not be immediate and certain.
- The expense of sale, transfer, or liquidation associated with a particular asset, when the expense need not be immediate and certain.
- Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.
These factors are complicated, and an experienced divorce attorney is essential to help parties navigate the divorce process. The court also has the authority to require the sale of property, both real and personal, allow a spouse to continue to reside in the marital home, order the entry of a lien against property to ensure payment of alimony or other ordered amounts, and require the purchase or maintenance of life insurance policies naming the spouses as beneficiaries.
Taking Control of Divorce Proceedings
A court’s determination of what is equitable is unpredictable and does not always represent what seems fair to the parties. If the parties reach an agreement regarding the distribution of assets and debts, however, court involvement will be minimal, If the parties are able to reach an agreement , then the court will enter an order memorializing that agreement.
Our attorneys believe in working together whenever possible to achieve a settlement regarding the division of marital debts and assets. We help many clients resolve property division by crafting a marital settlement agreement that is fair and acceptable to both parties. Although working with your spouse may seem impossible, agreements made together often result in better results than allowing the court to decide. Agreements can also reduce attorney fees and fees paid to the court. Even partial agreements are a step forward in a divorce.
If these negotiations fail, however, we are tough and experienced litigators. We will argue our client’s position to obtain the best possible outcome from the courts. The divorce lawyers at Bentley, Kopecki, Smith, P.C. offer over 30 years of combined practical and courtroom experience focused on protecting your rights. We understand the financial consequences and concerns involved in dividing a household and household income into equitable shares. For understanding and experienced representation, contact us to schedule a free initial consultation. Call 610-557-1935.