In almost all of my divorce cases, I have multiple conversations with client regarding the meaning of equitable distribution. Most client, with good reason, assume that equitable distribution means that the assets of the parties will be divided equally between them. However, in Pennsylvania, this is not how the courts will divide the estate, if requested to do so.
Many parties enter into a Marital Settlement Agreement, sometimes also referred to as a Property Settlement Agreement or Post-nuptial Agreement. An Agreement is completely between the parties and they can choose to divide their assets and debts as they would like to. Sometimes this division is 50/50 and sometimes one party receives more of the estate then the other party. It completely depends on the agreement the parties can come to without involving the courts.
However, if the parties cannot come to an agreement, it is necessary for the court to become involved. Pennsylvania Courts will not necessarily divide the estate 50/50, and will instead provide for "fair, but not necessarily equal, allocation of the property between the spouses." Specifically, the Court will consider the following factors:
- The length of the marriage;
- Any prior marriage of either party;
- The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties;
- The contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other party;
- The opportunity of each party for future acquisition of capital estates and income;
- The sources of income of both parties, including but not limited to medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits;
- The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker;
- The value of the property set apart to each party;
- The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage;
- The economic circumstances of each party, at the time the division of property is to become effective; and
- Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.
Any division of the assets by the court must include the entire marital estate. The court is not concerned with attempting to divide the assets 50/50. Instead, the court will divide the estate in a way that will produce an equitable result.
If you have questions about the division of your marital estate, please contact our office to set up a free initial consultation with one of our family law attorneys.