How Does Equitable Distribution Work in Pennsylvania?

Equitable Distribution

In Pennsylvania, in a divorce proceeding, the principle of equitable distribution applies to the allocation of all debts and assets accumulated during the marriage. You and your spouse may amicably work out a property settlement, but the court will still have the authority to review that agreement and revise or reject it if there is any perception of duress, undue influence or misrepresentation.

The first thing to understand about equitable distribution is that the word "equitable" means "fair," not equal. As a practical matter, dividing the debts and assets equally may be the fair way to settle the marital estate, but the court has latitude to deviate from that approach, based on a number of factors, including:

  • How long the parties were married
  • Whether or not either party was previously married
  • The age, health, station in life, sources of income, employability, vocational skills and other needs of each party
  • Any contribution either party made to the other’s education, training or increased earning power
  • Value of any property set apart to each party
  • The standard of living to which the parties were accustomed during marriage
  • The involvement of both parties in building or dissipating marital assets

Whether one of the parties will have physical custody of minor children

It’s also important to know that Pennsylvania characterizes property as either marital property or separate property. Separate property is generally property brought into the marriage by a party, acquired by gift or inheritance, excluded in a valid prenuptial agreement, or acquired after separation. For purposes of equitable distribution, separate property is excluded.

Contact Attorney Joanne E. Kleiner

Let us help you protect your rights. Contact our office online or call us at 215-886-1266 to schedule a confidential consultation. We will help you stay focused on the issues that matter.

The Impact of a Custody Battle

custody visitation

Many parents who contest a court’s custody ruling, or who engage in long and protracted proceedings to establish custody and visitation arrangement will tell you that they are doing it “for the benefit of the children.” There are certainly instances where one parent must do whatever is necessary to ensure a safe outcome for children—if there’s domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, for example. In most cases, though, their actions are ultimately counterproductive, draining precious resources that could be better spent on the children or on improving their lives.

Here are the most frequent consequences of an unnecessary custody battle:

  • One or both parties spend money they can’t afford to spend—It may be money that would be used to buy clothes and food, to live in a better house, or to fund a child’s college education. Attorney’s fees can be substantial, even if the skirmish is short-lived.
  • The tension and conflict between the parties increases—When you are on opposite sides of an argument, it’s hard to find ways to agree…which is often in the best interests of your children. Not only will it have an impact on your health—medical professionals have long known that stress and anxiety are bad for you—but your kids will be well aware of what’s going on and will feel in the middle (or even to blame).
  • Co-parenting becomes difficult or impossible—Even if the issues you need to resolve involve only your children, it will be hard not to inject some of your dispute or animosity with your ex into the process. In the aftermath of divorce, your children need stability and consistency—a custody battle makes those objectives difficult to attain.
  • Your children will suffer—If you and your ex are taking side, your children will feel compelled to as well. They love both of you, so they’ll struggle to make both of you happy—an unattainable goal.

Contact the Law Office of Joanne E. Kleiner & Associates

For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 215-886-1266. Let us use our experience, skill, knowledge and resources to help you make informed and effective decisions.

Divorce Mediation in Pennsylvania

Divorce Mediation

If your marriage has ended and divorce is the only option, you may still want to find a way to resolve your differences amicably, rather than incurring the time and expense of protracted litigation. You may want to consider mediation as an alternative. Here’s how the process works.

With mediation, the parties agree to pay a third-party neutral to help identify and settle any disputes involving child custody and visitation, child support, alimony or spousal support, and the equitable distribution of property. As a neutral, the mediator is charged with helping you and your ex come up with mutually beneficial ways to resolve your differences. Unlike a proceeding in court, mediation generally does not involve testimony from witnesses or then introduction of any evidence. Furthermore, the mediator won’t make any decisions for you, and won’t issue any rulings. Instead the mediator will try to facilitate a dialogue between you and your ex-spouse, so that the two of you iron out all the details.

There are a number of advantages to mediation over litigation. First, it’s usually less expensive and takes far less time to complete. Typically, you’ll share the cost of a mediator. Most divorce mediations can be completed in one or two sessions, and you won’t have to try to get on the court’s docket. Furthermore, because the mediator will not make any rulings on evidence or testimony, you don’t need to go through a lengthy discovery process before mediation.

Another benefit to mediation—you actually get to participate in the decision-making. Instead of depending on a judge or jury to make a ruling, you can propose solutions, reject offers from your spouse and be actively engaged in fashioning the outcome.

Finally, mediation can allow you to finalize matters without bitterness or acrimony, an important matter if you have minor children and need to maintain a long-term relationship with your ex.

Contact the Law Office of Joanne E. Kleiner & Associates

For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 215-886-1266. Let us use our experience, skill, knowledge and resources to help you make informed and effective decisions.

Important Terms to Know as You Prepare for Divorce

Prepare for Divorce

If you are considering or have filed for divorce, or if you anticipate being served with a divorce complaint, you’ll start hearing many terms with which you may not be familiar. Here are some legal terms that you should learn, so that you can meaningfully participate in the proceedings

Discovery

If your divorce is contested in any way—custody, visitation, child support or division of marital debts and assets—the court will most likely identify the length of the “discovery” period, and set some rules governing discovery. “Discovery” is simply the term that lawyers and judges use for gathering evidence. In the American judicial system, we have the concept of “open discovery.” That means that both sides are entitled to access to all evidence related to the case—one party cannot intentionally hide or fail to disclose relevant evidence. If that happens, there’s a significant chance that the court will rule the evidence to be inadmissible.

Equitable Distribution

Equitable distribution refers to a method for allocating the debts and assets of a marriage. For states that follow equitable distribution principles, property and liabilities are divided equitably, or “fairly.” It’s important to understand that “equitable” does not mean “equal.” The court may consider a wide range of factors. For example, in Pennsylvania, the court can examine, among other factor:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age and health of both parties
  • The earning power and sources of income of both parties

Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance is just another term for alimony. It can also be referred to as “spousal support.” Though alimony or spousal maintenance is not as common as it used to be, it is still used in specific situations, including where a spouse may lack the skills to be gainfully employed, or may need time to develop those skills or get the requisite education or training.

Contact Us

At the office of Joanne E. Kleiner & Associates, we have more than 25 years of family law experience. We’ll help you stay focused on what matters. To schedule an appointment with an experienced Pennsylvania divorce attorney, contact our office online or call us at 215-886-1266.

What Happens to Pets in a Divorce?

When your marriage falls apart, there are lots of things to think about, lots of ways you have to figure out how to divide things. How will your children divide their time with parents and where will they spend their time? How about marital debts and assets? What about the family pets??? —Wait a minute—that’s not one you’d thought about, is it?

pet and separation

Though people seldom factor the pets into a decision whether or not to get divorced, experts acknowledge that, for many people, pets are part of the family. The unfortunate reality, according to the law in just about every state, is that pets are treated like property in a divorce, not like children. If it’s an amicable divorce and you and your ex can effectively work together, you can have “shared custody” of your animals. If that’s not possible, what will most likely happen is that the court order will give the “property” to one of the parties. In fact, a Pennsylvania Superior Court decision in 2003, which is still law in the state, addressed this very issue.

In DeSanctis v. Pritchard, the trial court rejected a couple’s complaint for enforcement of a divorce settlement agreement that included shared custody of a dog. The couple appealed and the appellate court likened the custody agreement for the dog to “a visitation schedule for a table or lamp.” The court ruled that the canine was personal property and that the parties could not have shared custody of personal property.

A recently enacted statute in Alaska gives animal enthusiasts cause for optimism. The Alaskan legislature passed provisions giving family law courts the authority to make decisions in divorce proceedings about companion animals. Essentially, the Alaskan law allows a court to consider the well-being of the animal when determining who will get the pet—the court can consider such factors as who had the closest bond with the animal and who cared for the pet.

Contact Attorney Joanne E. Kleiner

Let us help you protect your rights. Contact our office online or call us at 215-886-1266 to schedule a confidential consultation. We will help you stay focused on the issues that matter.

Montgomery County Bar Association
Pennsylvania Bar Association
International Academy of Collaborative Professionals