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How ‘Equitable Distribution’ Can Affect Your Divorce in Pennsylvania

equitable distribution

If you’re involved in a court case in Pennsylvania, you need to understand a very important term: equitable distribution. It is something that affects many divorces. For high net-worth divorce proceedings, it can affect you even more.

What Is Equitable Distribution?

Equitable distribution, in its simplest terms, means that the court takes marital assets and ensures that both parties get the amount that they are entitled to have. In Pennsylvania, the court will not divide the assets using equitable distribution unless it is requested in the divorce complaint.

What Is Equitable?

Divorce can be an emotional and unpleasant experience. It often brings out the worst in people. Many readers may think that their former spouse is entitled to no more than half of any asset. However, equitable isn’t about a 50/50 split of the property. Rather, it’s about ensuring that each spouse gets as much as they are legally entitled to receive. This isn’t about equality.

Equitable Distribution Is About Justice

Equality means each person gets the same amount of something. For instance, if there was a bank account that was determined to be marital property in Pennsylvania and that account had $15,000, the court wouldn’t necessarily say that each party receives $7,500. Rather, the court looks at relevant factors involved in the case before determining how the money in the account will be awarded. One party may receive more than the other.

Equitable distribution is about justice. It’s about making sure that Pennsylvania couples are able to petition the court to receive what is rightfully theirs. Think of it in this manner: if one spouse is a homemaker, they may not bring any money into the marital arrangement, but they provide a valuable commodity for the good of the family. Their decision to remain home cuts down or totally eliminates expenses that would exist if the homemaker worked outside of the home. If a divorce were to occur, it would be an injustice for the homemaker to receive nothing out of the marital assets because he or she did not have a traditional occupation. Requesting equitable distribution would help the homemaker get the amount of marital assets that they are entitled to receive because of their contribution to the marriage.

Equitable Distribution Statute

In Pennsylvania, the statute defining equitable distribution is very clear that the goal isn’t about equality – it’s about what the court deems as a just distribution. It reads, in part, “Upon the request of either party in an action of divorce, the court shall equitably divide, distribute or assign, in kind or otherwise, the marital property between the parties without regard to marital misconduct in such percentages and in such manner as the court deems just after considering all relevant factors.”

Relevant factors are fully set forth in the actual statute. However, it’s important to realize that the relevant factors do not include marital misconduct. The factors are put in place to help the court determine what is fair and not to simply split marital property down the middle.

Valuing Property During Divorce

Prior to reaching a property distribution plan your attorney will work with service providers, such as a property appraiser, to inventory the value of various assets within the marital estate.

Attorneys will often advise divorcing couples to get house appraised to establish fair market value for the home. Divorce appraisal and the residential real estate appraisers can be a valuable resources in a divorce proceeding. First, knowing what your home is worth can help couples come to a fair divorce settlement. If you are unable to reach an agreement, an appraiser’s report may help support your position during a trial.

Not Just Assets

Equitable distribution doesn’t just affect marital assets. It can also be used to determine the equitable amount each party in the divorce owes on outstanding debts that were acquired during the marriage. The name of the party on the debt doesn’t particularly matter, either. However, there are exceptions to equitable distribution and marital debt. To learn more, give our office a call to set up your consultation so that we may discuss your specific case.

Relevant Factors

Earlier, you learned that the relevant factors of equitable distribution are determined by statute. These factors include:

  • How long you’ve been married;
  • Whether either party was formerly married;
  • Age, health, societal placement, amount and sources of income, job skills, employability, estate, liabilities, and the needs of each party;
  • Whether one spouse contributed to the education, training, or increased earning potential of the other spouse;
  • Opportunity of each party to acquire capital assets and income;
  • Retirement, insurance, pension, and other benefits of each party;
  • Contribution or detrimental effect of each party in acquiring, preserving, depreciation, and appreciation of marital property. This also includes contributions of spouses who choose to be homemakers;
  • Non-marital property value of both parties
  • Economic factors affecting both parties at the time of the equitable distribution;
  • Whether either party will care for minor children after the divorce;
  • Tax issues; and
  • Expenses that will be accrued by selling, transferring, or otherwise liquidating the marital property.

Equitable Distribution Questions?

If you have questions about equitable distribution, marital assets, or anything related to a high net worth divorce, contact Petrelli Law. We are divorce lawyers in Philadelphia who provides services for high net worth divorce cases in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Know your rights. Contact Petrelli Law to schedule your consultation. Call us now: 215-523-6900.

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Thomas Petrelli, is the founder and named partner at the Family Law firm of Petrelli Previtera, LLC, (Previously Petrelli Law, P.C.) The firm provides a unique and dependable approach to family law. The firm's commitment to exploring and building the client/lawyer relationship to ensure that all your needs are met. More by this author at 1845 Walnut Street, 19th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19103 | (215) 523-6900 227 Laurel Road, Suite 100, Voorhees, NJ 08043 | (201) 655-7204 180 N. Stetson Street, Suite 3500, Chicago, IL 60601 | (312) 252-2085 516 DeKalb Street, Suite C, Norristown, PA 19401 | (610) 924-2870 203 W Chestnut St, Suite 204, West Chester, PA 19380 | (610) 431-4012

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