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Understanding property division during a divorce

Divorces can be messy, high-conflict processes, especially if your marriage has gone on long enough to include kids and a fair amount of shared property and assets. That's why it is important to understand how the property division process works in a divorce. When you understand that process, it is easier to focus on strategies that will help you achieve your goals, and it is also easier to weigh the advice you receive from your attorney and other sources.

Equitable distribution in Pennsylvania

When you file for divorce in Pennsylvania, the divorce is governed by the state's equitable distribution law for marital property. This means all the property is divided equitably, but not necessarily 50/50. The court will weigh various factors:

  • Who retains custody of the children
  • Relative incomes and earning potentials of both parties
  • Upkeep costs for various assets
  • The length of the marriage
  • Property acquired during the marriage

The results will vary, and they can be negotiated during the course of the process. One advantage of equitable distribution is the fact that in seeking fairness, courts are not required to ensure that each side has absolutely equally valued assets. That means it is possible to negotiate for those assets most important to you, to attain a balance both parties can live with, rather than simply seeking total a balance sheet.

Separate property and marital property

Another key issue in your divorce will be the status of each asset. This can make a big difference because assets that were separately owned prior to the marriage are generally considered yours unless they are commingled with marital assets. In addition to property you owned before the marriage, gifts to one spouse are considered separate property, as are assets acquired after legal separation.

The distinction between marital property and separate property is a line between those assets that your spouse can attempt to negotiate for during the divorce and those that are not included in the consideration of the divorce at all. This is important, especially if you have high-value properties that predated your marriage, heirlooms that have a high dollar value, and other pieces of property that are owned outside the marriage.

Conflicts about separate and marital property

It's not always easy for both spouses to agree on which assets are to be considered marital property and which are to be considered separate property, which means sometimes the courts must decide. When that happens, you need an experienced attorney on your side, one who has worked on high-conflict divorce cases before, to know you are protected.