Making sense of the Pennsylvania equitable distribution standard

For many people staring down the reality of a pending divorce, the biggest question is how the courts will split their assets and debts. Almost everyone has heard a horror story from someone who claims that the courts unfairly gave everything to their ex or left them with the bill for someone else's compulsive spending habit.

It's important to understand that some people may exaggerate their story to make it more entertaining or to garner sympathy from their listeners. It's also critical that you realize that each divorce scenario is as unique as the couple splitting up.

While Pennsylvania courts always use the same law and standard for divorce proceedings, the outcome of these court cases is often very different.

Pennsylvania law requires the equitable allocation of assets and debts

The standard for asset division is equitable distribution in Pennsylvania. Many people find the word equitable to be somewhat misleading. They may assume that equitable means equal and will therefore produce a 50/50 split of marital assets.

In reality, equitable means fair, and what is fair is not necessarily exactly equal. One spouse may have significantly more assets or earning potential than the other, which can impact how the courts handle this process.

The courts have a significant amount of power to adjudicate based on the unique circumstances of your family. They will look at the length of the marriage, the contributions made by you and your ex, your earning potential, your kids and other factors. Generally speaking, marital misconduct such as adultery will not factor into the asset division process.

In most cases, you will split whatever you acquired during marriage

It really doesn't matter who earned more money or who worked longer hours. The courts will look at unpaid labor around the house as well as income when determining what is fair. What matters more than the amount earned by each spouse is the date when the family acquired an asset. Almost everything you acquired during the marriage will be subject to division under Pennsylvania law.

Certain assets may remain separate property, especially those that you received as gifts or items you inherit. However, even those assets could become subject to division under certain circumstances. Commingling, which involves mixing your separate property with marital property, could leave all of your separate property vulnerable to division in a divorce.

Couples who have an existing prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement could find that this document drives the asset division process. However, if the agreement really only benefits one spouse or violates state law, the courts may not uphold it.

Discussing your agreement and your marriage with an attorney can help you anticipate the likely outcome in your case. Keeping an open mind can help you avoid disappointment related to unrealistic expectations in your divorce.

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