Divorce 101 in Pennsylvania – Part 2April 22, 2013
What you need to know about Divorce in Pennsylvania
My last article outlined a very brief introduction to the process by which people obtain a divorce. What some people may not realize is that obtaining the final Decree in Divorce itself does not resolve the division of the parties’ assets. In fact, they are two separate issues within the same divorce case – and most importantly, a person does not want to finalize a divorce until there has been some agreement or court order related to the division of assets. In this article, I will provide a brief overview of some of the issues parties face with the division of assets
Pennsylvania is an “equitable distribution” state, which means that a court will divide the parties’ martial assets as they see fit. The term “equitable” does not automatically mean that a couple will divide marital assets 50/50. The court considers 13 different factors when dividing parties’ marital assets. In fact, depending on the facts of the case, the court could divide marital assets in some other fashion – such as 60/40. Some of the factors the court will consider include the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, the sources of income for both parties, the standard of living of the parties during the marriage – to name a few. One thing people should keep in mind – Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, which means that regardless of whether one party or the other is at fault for the break-up of the marriage, is NOT a relevant factor to the division of marital assets. Often times, lawyers will work with their clients to assist them in trying to reach an agreement to divide their marital assets, or parties may elect to try mediation or some other form of dispute resolution. However, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement or resolve the property distribution on their own, the court will need to decide how marital assets are divided.
You might ask at this point “what constitutes marital property”? Generally, martial assets are any asset acquired by the parties during the marriage, regardless of how the property is titled. Yes, this does mean that the retirement account in your name alone that you started and maintained during the marriage is likely martial and subject to distribution. There are some exceptions, most notably, gifts or inheritances a party receives during the marriage – as long as it was kept in their own name. For example, if a party inherits $50,000 from a long lost cousin, as long as the money is placed in an account in that party’s name alone, the money is not marital. But – and here’s another exception – if that account increased in value during the marriage, then the increase in value is marital.
Keep in mind, the same rules that apply to assets, also apply to debts incurred during the marriage. Generally, any debt incurred during the marriage is also subject to distribution – including credit card debt – even if the credit card is in your spouses’ name alone.
Of course, the division of marital assets and liabilities are not always cut and dry. There are many facets that need to be considered and every situation will vary depending on the circumstances of each case. But the general principals outlined above should help to provide a basic guide by which to operate.
While the division of assets and liabilities and obtaining the final Decree in Divorce are two separate issues, they do go hand in hand, and you do not want to finalize your divorce until the property distribution is resolved.