One of the most frightening and contentious steps in a divorce is dividing assets. When there is money, debt and property at stake, it is very common for divorcing spouses to get defensive and possibly angry. As such, disputes can and do arise.
To avoid or at least minimize the arguments that arise during this process, it can be helpful to know some basic elements of how property division works in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, which means that eligible property is divided equitably, or fairly. This does not mean equally, though many divorces end with each person receiving about half of the marital property.
Marital property vs nonmarital property
Generally speaking, all marital property is subject to division. This includes assets and debts accumulated by one or both spouses during the marriage. Nonmarital property, including property owned by one person before the marriage, will typically stay with the owner.
Determining what is equitable
Equitable distribution requires compromise and negotiation to determine what is fair if you are addressing the issue outside of court.
If your case goes to trial, a judge will consider a list of factors to decide on how to divided the estate. In either case, you should each exit the divorce with a fair portion of the marital estate.
How property is divided
To figure out distribution, divorcing spouses will create an inventory of all their assets and debts and divide accordingly. You do not have to literally divide every asset, though. For instance, you might keep a retirement plan intact if your ex wants to keep the house or if you agree to take on more debt.
You may also need to consult a financial professional who can assign values to complex assets and clear up any disputes over categorization of property.
The importance of legal guidance
Whether you resolve property division in court or on your own, it is critical to have an attorney during the process. Not only can an attorney help you assess what is, in fact, fair in the eyes of the law, but he or she can also help you make your case to ensure you receive the settlement you deserve.