Understanding Asset Division in Pennsylvania
Feb. 6, 2023
A couple going their separate ways by dissolving their marriage must clear a few hurdles before they can. That begins with untangling the assets and debts they came into the marriage with and those they accumulated during the marriage. There are also some that fall somewhere between.
Pennsylvania is not a community property state where asset awards are split down the middle. State law provides for the equitable distribution of property, which means it is up to the judge’s discretion to approve a fair, but not an evenly divided, allocation of assets.
Mix these legal realities together and asset division is not black and white but, rather, shades of gray. That is why Iwanyshyn & Associates works with their clients from Allison Park, Wexford, Pittsburgh, Gibsonia, and Cranberry, Pennsylvania, to get a clearer picture of what assets and debts they may end up with in divorce, and those they may not.
Marital Property vs. Separate Property
Only marital property in Pennsylvania is divided in divorce. Separate property is not. The beginning for most divorce proceedings is determining which category all property belongs to.
Marital property refer to assets (as well as debts) that spouses accumulate during marriage. Separate property is what each person possessed prior to the marriage and after the couple separates, as well as gifts and inheritances received during the marriage.
Think of the things you joined or acquired while you were married, such as a home, vehicles, furnishings, and bank accounts. Those are marital property.
Consider property you each had when you got married, such as a car or house, or retirement investments. Those tend to be separate property and not subject to division in divorce. If a spouse receives an inheritance during the marriage, including money, real property, cars, antiques, artwork, jewelry, and other items, those are separate property. So are gifts to one spouse received during the marriage.
At first glance, it sounds easy to sort out marital property from separate property. For brief marriages and for couples who own few assets, the process can be fairly straightforward. Otherwise, the lines can get blurry, making who gets what in a divorce a bit more controversial.
For example, you bought a house before you married your spouse. Your spouse moved in, and you lived there during your marriage. Once married, the mortgage was paid from a joint checking account. Even if you continued to make the mortgage payment from your own checking account, the income you were putting into that account is marital property. What this means is some of the value of the house is marital property because marital income paid some of the mortgage, improvements, and upkeep.
Who Decides How Assets Are Divided?
Who decides how marital property is divided largely depends on whether the divorce is uncontested or contested.
If you, your spouse, and your respective family law attorneys can collaborate and reach an agreement regarding the division of assets and debts, you can present the uncontested agreement to the court for approval. The judge will review the inventory of assets and debts and weigh the agreement to determine if both of you are receiving an equitable share.
If the divorce is contested, the judge will again review the inventory of assets and debts, However, in this case, the court will determine how they are distributed in divorce.
What Factors Are Considered in Asset Division?
Marriage length and the value of assets are factors considered by the court, as are the amount each spouse contributed to the purchase of assets, as well as the accumulation of debts. This does not mean a spouse who did not work outside the home during the marriage contributed less to acquiring assets than the spouse who did. The court recognizes the value of both.
The lifestyle of spouses during the marriage is also a consideration. What each spouse’s standard of living will be once the marital assets are divided is a factor in equitable distribution. So is the ability of each spouse to support themselves after the divorce. As such, their ages, employment, educations, and health statuses also factor into the court’s decision.
Talk to an Experienced Attorney
For anyone filing for divorce, what happens to what they have can cause tremendous anxiety. Where and how you will live once the marriage is dissolved is a major concern. In many cases, deciding who gets what can be quote combative.
If you are considering divorce or are in the process, put an experienced family law attorney on your side. Call Iwanyshyn & Associates in Allison Park, Pennsylvania, today to schedule a consultation.