Understanding Equitable Distribution

Unlike California, Pennsylvania is not a community property state, which means that just because you were married to the person doesn’t mean you automatically get half.  Rather, Pennsylvania courts use a process of equitable distribution to divide up a couple’s marital property.  But what exactly does that mean?  What it means is that the courts try to come up with a property settlement that is “fair” to the parties taking into consideration a number of factors.  Some factors that the courts will consider include: length of the marriage, age, health, amount and sources of income, employability and needs of each party, contributions by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party, each party’s contribution to or dissipation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker, sources of income of both parties, standard of living of the parties established during the marriage, and whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent, minor children.  One of the things the court will not consider is the marital misconduct of the other spouse.  There are times when this will be a factor to consider, but when dividing up the marital property, it is not.

But knowing how the courts decide to divide up the property is only half of the equation.  You also need to know what property, the court will be looking to divide.  The courts divide up all of the marital property.  What is considered marital property?   Marital property includes all property that was acquired during the marriage, regardless of whose name it is.  Gifts from one spouse to another are marital property if they were purchased with marital funds; however, gifts and inheritances that a spouse receives during the marriage from a third-party belong to that spouse.  Although, there can be a loophole here if non-martial funds (i.e. money received from inheritance) become mixed with marital funds (say in a joint checking account).  Rather than try to sort it out, the court could rule that all funds in that account are marital property.  Pensions and business interests that were developed by one spouse are considered marital property if they were acquired during the marriage.  Additionally, increased value in a business owned prior to the marriage would be considered marital property.

Although you now know the how and what of equitable distribution, dividing up the marital property can still cause a great amount of tension between divorcing parties.  If you find that you and your spouse are unable to come to an arrangement on your own, please contact the Law Office of Suzanne Szymoniak.  We can help insure you obtain the property settlement that you deserve.

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