The state of Pennsylvania’s divorce process is divided up into sections, and one of the most challenging sections to get through is equitable distribution, or the division of property. When two people who are married can’t agree on who gets what, or the value of their various assets and debt, the state has a process aimed at keeping things fair.
One of the first things decided in determining the division of property in a divorce is whether an asset is marital or nonmarital. Marital is anything that is acquired during the marriage, but pre-marital assets are things that a spouse brought into the marriage. Marital assets are usually divided between the two spouses. Pre-marital assets are generally considered to remain to the person who brought them into the marriage. The same is true of inheritances received during the marriage, gifts given to just one spouse, property sold during the marriage and property that is specifically excluded via a prenuptial agreement. Though nonmarital property does not get split, any increase in value is considered a marital asset and must be calculated into the division of assets. It’s also important to note that if premarital assets are used for a marital purchase (such as a home), the value of those assets becomes marital property.
Property that is considered marital can include a home, a business, furniture, bank or retirement accounts, investments, vehicles and more. If it was purchased during the marriage it is generally considered marital, even if it was only put in one spouse’s name. Some things can be partly marital and partly non-marital, including an increase in value. The same is true of debts. If a debt was acquired during the marriage and before the separation, it can be marital, even if only one of the spouses incurred the debt.
To determine how to divide property, your divorce attorney and your spouse’s attorney will evaluate documents about all assets, debt, and income. If your spouse does not provide documentation, then there will be a process called discovery which gathers the information. Some assets may need to be appraised by experts to determine their value. Once all of the value is calculated, the assets and debts need to be distributed fairly: this does not mean that it will be equal. The state considers several factors, including each spouse’s financial situation before and after the divorce, the length of the marriage, whether it was a first marriage, whether either one had non-marital assets excluded from equitable distribution, the spouses’ health and income, any contribution that one spouse made to the earning potential of the other, the standard of living during the marriage, and more. Someone being at fault for the marriage ending is not taken into consideration.
If a couple can come to an agreement without going to court, their attorneys write up a settlement agreement for submission to the court. Without an agreement, the court will make the decision.
The process can be daunting and arduous. A party may not know their rights or how to divide the property. A party may not know what they are entitled to, or what type of division of property can be expected during a divorce. When it comes to your assets, approaching equitable distribution should not be taken lightly.
If you need assistance or guidance to help you understand the process of equitable distribution and your divorce, contact us today to set up a consultation. You may not be getting all that you are entitled to receive under the eyes of Pennsylvania law.