Part II of a series regarding property settlement in a divorce.
When you divorce in Pennsylvania, the law requires that the property acquired during the marriage will be divided “equitably” between you and your spouse. In our most recent article about property division, we described what assets should be considered as “marital property” and what may be treated as “separate property” of one spouse.
Once the Court determines whether all of the property owned or possessed by the parties at the time of the divorce belongs to both individuals, the analysis turns to what distribution is “equitable.” After considering whether anything owned is the separate, non-marital property of one spouse, the Court will decide how to equitably divide the accumulated marital property between the spouses. “Equitably” means fairly, which is not necessarily going to be equally.
First, judges consider the value of all the real estate, the personal property like cars and household furnishings, and intangible financial assets such as bank accounts, investments and retirement accounts. Then, the Court must weigh the value of this marital property against the remaining debts owed by the parties to come up with a calculation of what the couple owns as marital property and what therefore needs to be divided between the two of them for property settlement.
It is a rather complicated process of accounting that ultimately leads the Court to a decision about how much property each spouse deserves to have awarded to them in the divorce decree. The next step in property settlement in a divorce is to determine an equitable distribution of property. According to the Divorce Code at 23 Pa. C.S.A. §3502, eleven (11) relevant factors must be taken into account in awarding property or money to one spouse or the other.
Examples of the relevant factors considered by the Court include: a) the length of the marriage; b) the standard of living established during the marriage; c) the ages, income, education and earning capacity of each party; d) the contribution of one spouse toward the education, training or earning power of the other spouse; and e) whether there are dependent minor children. All of the factors that the judge looks at when dividing property equitably are listed in detail within the relevant statute, which can be viewed in its entirety at the following link. 23 Pa.C.S.A. 3502
A great deal of evidence and factual circumstances may be presented to the Judge or taken into consideration when developing a proposed order or agreement for equitable distribution. While you and your spouse may decide to use the default 50-50 division, all of the factors listed in the statute could lead to a conclusion that you deserve to have more than half of the marital property. The law is detailed, and the relevant facts can be difficult to effectively present without legal assistance. If you are getting divorced and you need help determining or proving the total of your fair share, call an experienced divorce lawyer at the Mazza Law Group, P.C. for advice and assistance.
In our next article about divorce and property division, we will provide an overview of prenuptial agreements and how they can protect your assets before you get married.