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.