Equitable Distribution in Pennsylvania

Black and Davison

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When your marriage has fallen apart, one of the most challenging tasks you’ll face can be the division of marital debts and assets, particularly if you’ve built up a substantial marital estate or there are extensive marital debts. Like the majority of states, Pennsylvania is an “equitable distribution” jurisdiction. The parties to a divorce are always free to work out the terms of the division of debts and assets, though the court always has discretion to review a marital property settlement to prevent fraud, duress or undue influence.

If the parties cannot negotiate a settlement, the court will look at a number of factors in an effort to allocate debts and assets “equitably.” It’s important to understand that “equitably” means “fairly,” but not necessarily equally.

The first thing the court will typically do is distinguish between “separate” property and “marital” property. Separate property is any property that belongs exclusively to one of the parties, and can include:

  • Property acquired before the marriage
  • Property received through gift or inheritance
  • Property excluded from the marital estate by a valid prenuptial/postnuptial agreement
  • Property obtained after separation

When determining how the the property will be distributed, the court can consider a broad range of factors, such as:

  • How long the parties were married
  • The age, health and income of each party
  • Other non-marital assets to which either party has access
  • The potential earning capacity of both parties
  • Whether there are minor children and one spouse will be required to be custodian of those children
  • The extent to which either spouse contributed to the increased earning potential of the other party (by working while the other spouse was in school, for example)

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