The Goal of a Fair & Equitable Distribution of Property in a Pennsylvania Divorce

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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About the author

About Melissa Towsey

Melissa graduated from the University of Virginia in 2002 with a double major in Sociology and Foreign Affairs. After working for several years as a paralegal in Washington, D.C., she attended The University of Villanova School of Law and graduated in 2010. During law school, Melissa was involved in several public interest organizations and published an article in Villanova’s Environmental Law Journal, “Something Stinks: The Need for Environmental Regulation of Puppy Mills” 21 Vill. Envtl. L.J. 159 (2010) After law school, Melissa clerked for the Honorable Thomas G. Parisi, Administrative Judge of the Criminal Division in the Court of Common Pleas, Berks County. Melissa is the supervising attorney of the firm’s Appellate Unit. The Appellate Unit handles all aspects of the appellate process for family law cases as well as advanced research within the firm. Melissa and her husband, Paul, reside in Montgomery County with their two cats Wembley and Gobo. In her spare time, she enjoys audiobooks, barbeques, and watching action movies.