Stephanie is a family law attorney in Obermayer’s office in Doylestown, PA. She concentrates her practice in all aspects of family law, including divorce, custody, child and spousal support, equitable distribution, adoption,...Read More by Author
Equitable – WHAT? Dividing Marital Property in Pennsylvania
While many industries may enjoy a quiet entrance into 2023, family law attorneys gear up for what is commonly known as “busy season” as people decide to embrace the “New Year, New Me” and contemplate what was once unimaginable: divorcing their spouse. Thanks to media frenzy and highlights of celebrity divorces throughout the past year, it is inevitable that potential clients will have preconceived notions about what their divorce may look like. During our initial consultations, we focus on dispelling myths about divorce (and correcting the information provided by the latest Google search). It is important that potential clients feel informed, educated, and part of the process. From the financial standpoint, one of the first things we discuss is marital property and how it will be divided.
The official term for dividing marital property in Pennsylvania is “Equitable Distribution.”
We face two initial questions in discussions with clients:
- What IS marital property? and
- What is equitable?
Generally, marital property includes property acquired from the date of marriage through the date of separation regardless of how it is titled. This means that one spouse cannot simply open an investment account in their individual name in an effort to defeat the other spouse’s right to that account as part of the divorce. Marital property also usually includes the increase in value of property a spouse had before the marriage. There are exceptions to what is considered marital property, including assets excluded by agreement of the parties either before their marriage (“prenuptial”) or after the date of marriage (“postnuptial”). Gifts and inheritances are also generally excluded, but similar to property owned prior to marriage, the increase in value may be included depending on the circumstances of when those assets were received.
Once you determine “what’s in” and “what’s out” the next part of the discussion is to assess what an equitable division of marital property may look like. In Pennsylvania, the Courts and practitioners rely on certain factors relevant under Pennsylvania law. These factors are relevant in determining what is equitable. The fault of either party is not a factor. So, if you are asking to yourself whether your spouse’s infidelity or your own emotional affair will play a part in dividing your assets, the answer is no.
Generally, most cases begin at a 50/50 division and an upward award of the percentage of assets in one spouse’s favor may be appropriate. While there are numerous factors to consider, in many cases not all may factors be relevant and, depending on the circumstances of your case, the Courts may weigh some factors more heavily than others. It is important to consider how the factors interrelate and may favor one spouse over the other.
For example, if I am meeting with a client who has been married for 2 years, has no children and the spouses earn similar incomes, then I would be advising them differently than a client who has been married for 15 years, is the stay at home parent of two young children and has been out of the workforce for the past 10 years.
If you are considering a divorce, the following will be helpful in discussions regarding equitable distribution of marital property:
- A list of your assets and liabilities with current values
- Most recently filed tax return
- Current paystub for you and your spouse
- General understanding of work history and earning potential for you and your spouse
The process of initiating a divorce and discussing next steps can be daunting and stressful. It is important that you have experienced counsel who can guide you appropriately based on the facts of your individual case. The Obermayer family law group is here to help. Contact an attorney to schedule a consultation.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.