The Goal of a Fair & Equitable Distribution of Property in a Pennsylvania Divorce
By: Melissa D. Towsey, Esquire
Pennsylvania is not a 50/50 or community property state. Our Commonwealth follows the principles of “equitable distribution”, meaning that the net marital estate (marital assets less marital debts) will be divided as the court deems “equitable,” or what the court decides is the “fairest” option. This could be a 50/50 split of assets, but it may be some other percentage, such as 55/45 or 60/40.
In practice, divisions above 65/35 rarely occur, although there are circumstances where such is warranted. Also, not each individual asset or debt is necessarily divided and the court may opt for an in-kind division by asset. For example, in a very simple 50/50 case with just one pension, worth $300,000 and one house worth $300,000, the entire house may go to one party while the entire pension goes to the other party.
The parties and their attorneys have tremendous leeway in negotiating terms of their agreement. If no agreement is forthcoming, however, the court will issue a decision in equitable distribution. The court must base its decision eleven (11) separate factors, many that contain several sub-factors or sub-parts. 23 Pa. C.S. § 3502(a). Among these factors are the length of the marriage, the health of the parties, the incomes of the parties, and the presence of minor children. Marital misconduct (including affairs) is NOT a factor in equitable distribution, although it is one of the factors for determining alimony.
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