In Pennsylvania divorces, marital assets are divided according to a process called “equitable distribution”. The process of exchanging discovery, appearing for pretrial conferences, and having a hearing or even a trial can be long and costly. For this reason, parties to a divorce sometimes elect to forego the litigation route in favor of an agreed-upon settlement. If your attorneys can collaborate and put together a Property Settlement Agreement that is acceptable to both sides, you and your spouse could end up saving thousands (even tens of thousands) in legal fees and court costs.
1.Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Here’s an example: Both parties want the 60” flat-screen television. It was bought five years ago for $1,000.00. It would cost $500.00 to go to Target and buy a brand new one. Because both sides feel strongly about their right to the television they each pay their attorney well over the cost of a new 60” flat-screen in pursuit of the existing one! These people have lost sight of the big picture. I ask my clients throughout the settlement process, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Remind yourself that you have chosen the settlement route so that you can save time and money. Pick your battles and be reasonable on items that don’t carry any sentimental value. You will almost certainly benefit financially.
2.Identify Your Goals
Do you want to remain in the marital home or should it be sold? Do you need liquid assets or are you more focused on keeping your retirement savings in tact? Who is paying down the credit cards? One of the reasons you hire an attorney is to have someone help you prioritize which items you want to pursue in settlement based on your long-term goals after divorce. By working with your attorney to develop that plan, you can then figure out which marital assets you will need and which assets you can afford to part ways with. Don’t just “wing it”, make sure that each decision you are making is an informed one.
3. Have a Plan Going Forward
Once you have an idea of the amount and types of assets you will be walking away with, meet with a financial advisor to draw up a plan for how best to utilize those assets moving forward. Where possible, avoid liquidating retirement assets prematurely.
4. Find out What Your Assets are Worth
One asset that is typically subject to equitable distribution in the Marital Home. In order to quantify the amount of equity that’s going to be allocated between the parties, we need to know what the house is valued at and we need to know the amount of any mortgages or liens that are secured by the house. Hire a professional appraiser to come out to the house and provide you and your ex with a report on how much the house could sell for. Appraisals will also prove helpful for high-value items like art, antiques, and jewelry.
5. Take the Time to Understand Your Property Settlement Agreement
Once all of the terms are agreed to your attorney will draw up an agreement for each side’s signature. This may sound obvious to some, but take the time to read the agreement! Every paragraph that is in the Property Settlement Agreement is in there for a reason. There is no “fluff”, and even boilerplate language carries weight and has been included for that reason. If you are unclear on anything at all you should review with your attorney until you understand it and before you sign off on anything.
By keeping these five points in mind, you will be able to get the most out of your settlement and in so doing, save yourself lots of time, stress, and money. To schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys or for further information, call us at the Law Office of Gregory P. LaMonaca, P.C., at (610) 892-3877