Marital Property / Equitable Distribution
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UNDERSTANDING MARITAL PROPERTY AND EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION IN PITTSBURGH
As with alimony and custody disputes, the division of property can be a disputed issue in a divorce. Pennsylvania is an community property state, which means that the law considers all property and income acquired during the marriage to be the property of both spouses. Property division cannot be avoided in a divorce, because each spouse has a equal interest in marital property. The attorneys at Fenters Ward always advise our clients to settle these issues out of court if possible. Again, when settlement is not an option, the court will divide the property in a manner that it sees equally fair to both parties.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED MARITAL PROPERTY?
Marital property generally includes any real estate, assets, accounts and income acquired by either party during the marriage. There are exceptions. Property can be considered “separate” if the spouse acquired it before the marriage, and it remained separate throughout the marriage. For example, a piece of property purchased by one spouse before the marriage, remains separate property if the other spouse is not included in a new deed. But, if acquired during the marriage, only one spouse needs to be on the deed or title.
Gifts and inheritances are also considered separate property if given to one spouse during the marriage. However, the intent to remain separate property must remain throughout the marriage.
Property acquired after the date of separation are excluded from marital property. The date of separation should be clearly established by anyone concerned about the division of property. The parties must be living “separate and apart” meaning that they do not cohabitate, maintain a relationship publicly or privately, and keep finances separate.
Property that is excluded by a valid and enforceable pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED MARITAL DEBT?
Marital debts are also divided during equitable distribution. If one or both spouses incurs a debt after the date of marriage and before the date of separation, then the debt is considered marital. This may include student loans, unpaid utilities, credit card debts and the like.
HOW DOES THE COURT DIVIDE MARITAL PROPERTY?
Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, which means that the courts are to enforce a “fair” but not necessarily equal division of property. Unequal divisions may be a result of the following:
- One spouse has a greater earning capacity;
- One spouse has primary or full custody;
- Children have significant needs;
- One spouse has significant needs;
- One spouse has a greater education;
- Premarital assets;
- Contributions during marriage;
- Prior marriages;
- Length of marriage;
- Age, health and life expectancy.
If one spouse has a greater responsibility to care for the children, it is likely that spouse will be given a greater portion of the property. Specifically, Pennsylvania courts are more likely to award the marital home to the custodial parent, and/or take into account the time spent with each parent.
The rights of the spouse who brought an asset into the marriage are balanced against the rights of the spouse that moved into the residence during the marriage. If an asset (home, brokerage or retirement account) increased in value during the marriage, the increase in value is marital property. The spouse who brought the property in is given a credit for the value of that property on the date of the marriage.
OUR PITTSBURGH ATTORNEYS ARE HERE TO ASSIST YOU
The key word is “equitable” distribution. Equitable means “fair” but not necessarily equal. This concept is troublesome for individuals trying to represent their own interest. It is crucial to have an experienced attorney at your side from the outset. Often, to facilitate agreement over the distribution of assets, the parties will attend a mediation, whereby an independent third party, often a lawyer, will hear the arguments of both parties and work to achieve a reasonable agreement between them which can then form the basis for a Marital Settlement Agreement that can be filed in court. Call to speak with one of our experienced legal professionals today.
Questions? Get in Touch With A PA Divorce Attorney Today.