The legal principle known as “equitable distribution” refers to a fair allocation of assets and property accumulated during a marriage. Because Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, a judge employs this standard when determining how to divide assets in a litigated divorce scenario. The law also permits a couple to divide any asset deemed marital property among themselves if they can reach an agreement – perhaps via mediation or negotiations – without requiring judicial intervention.
A number of considerations are taken into account when allocating assets and debts in a litigated divorce, such as the length of the marriage, the requirements of the parties and the respective financial contributions made by each. It is also important that each partner pays their fair share of debts, such as mortgages, credit card payments and student loans.
What affects equitable distribution determinations?
A judge who is employing an equitable distribution standard is compelled to consider several criteria when making decisions about property division and spousal support. This includes:
- The degree of education and employability of each party
- Their respective income and expenses
- Their respective financial demands
- Their ages and health
Other factors that are taken into account include:
- the quality of life during a marriage or civil union
- the contributions made by each party to the other’s education, training or earning potential
- the tax consequences of the proposed distribution
- the expected medical or educational costs for a spouse or children.
Sometimes morality comes into play. For example, one partner may be entitled to less if they were the primary cause of the divorce due to abuse or adultery, but only under certain circumstances.
Are there exemptions to equitable property distribution?
In short, yes. First, there is separate property, which clearly belongs to one spouse. Examples include assets obtained before marriage as well as assets inherited or gifted from a third party while married that have not been comingled.
Second, because prenuptial agreements supersede equitable distribution standards most of the time, some marital property that would ordinarily be subject to division may be distributed in ways that would otherwise be considered “unfair” if the terms of a prenup dictate a particular approach.
Because there is so much at stake, it makes sense to seek assistance with the equitable distribution process. Asking for legal guidance is always an option for those who are facing a challenging property distribution scenario.