When two people get married, they often build a life together by buying property and accumulating assets. If the couple later decides to go their separate ways, the process of property division can be contentious. In Pennsylvania, courts use equitable distribution laws to determine who gets what in the divorce.
Separate vs. Marital Property
Generally, any property a person brings into the marriage is considered separate property. Some examples of separate property include:
- Assets owned prior to marriage (e.g. retirement funds, vehicles)
- Inheritances or gifts given to only one spouse by a third party
- Proceeds from personal injury lawsuits (compensation paid to one spouse for their accident-related injuries)
- Assets acquired by one spouse after the date of separation
Marital property typically refers to any assets or property acquired by either spouse during the course of the marriage, with a couple of exceptions. Marital property may include:
- Collectible items purchased during the marriage (e.g. art, classic vehicles, coins)
- Family home or vacation home/timeshare
- Earnings accumulated during the marriage
- Furnishings purchased during the marriage
In a divorce, any separate property will be returned to the spouse who brought it into the marriage, while marital property will be distributed between the spouses. However, keep in mind that some separate property can become marital property during the course of the marriage. For example, if one spouse receives an inheritance and deposits the money into a joint account with the other spouse, the inheritance could now be considered marital property, as there has been a mixing of separate and marital assets.
Equitable Property Distribution
In community property states, courts will typically divide the marital property evenly between both spouses in a divorce. However, in states like Pennsylvania that follow equitable property distribution, the court will determine what is ‘fair’ when it comes to dividing up the marital property. In other words, Pennsylvania couples should be aware that their marital assets may not be split 50-50.
When determining how to divide up the marital assets, Pennsylvania courts will consider a number of factors, including:
- Age, health, education levels and vocational skills of each spouse to determine employability.
- Length of the marriage
- Contributions of one spouse to the other (e.g. one spouse pays for the other spouse’s education)
- Value of the property
- Sources of income for each spouse
- Standard of living during the marriage
The property division process during a divorce can be contentious and confusing. A divorce attorney in your area can help ensure that you get the marital assets that are most important to you.