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"Equitable Distribution" Does Not Mean "Equal"

The Court will apply the factors enumerated in the Divorce Code of Pennsylvania in arriving at a equitable distribution. It does not mean things get split 50/50.

I sometimes meet with clients (and even speak to other lawyers) that believe or feel that the assets and liabilities of the marital estate must be split 50/50. I mean, to them, that's "equitable." However, the courts of the Commonwealth and the Divorce Code of Pennsylvania do not necessarily envision this type of division. The parties may reach an agreement, known as a Marital Settlement Agreement or sometimes referred to as a postnuptial agreement. That agreement may divide things 50/50 and this is perfectly fine.

At the request of either party, however, the court is required to "equitably divide, distribute, or assign" the parties' marital property. The distribution may be "in kind or otherwise" and "in such manner as the court deems just." The award must include the entire marital estate. A buyout rather than an in kind distribution may be the method of choice in appropriate cases. Equitable distribution does not require an equal division of the marital estate, and the court may make its award "in such percentages" as will produce an equitable result. Unequal distribution may, therefore, be the rule rather than the exception. Application of the statutory factors may require that one party be awarded "the lion's share" or even the entire marital estate. The court may apply a different percentage to each marital asset or category of assets. A presumption, or even a "starting point," which amounts to the same thing, of equal division has been expressly disapproved.

If you are involved in a separation or are thinking about filing for divorce, you need competent counsel to assist you. You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC at (717) 268-4287.