Divorcing couples must divide the marital property prior to the Court’s entry of a divorce decree. Often, this is accomplished through a negotiated settlement between the parties. The settlement is then memorialized in a written property settlement agreement which is signed by both parties and incorporated into the divorce decree. When the parties cannot agree on an equitable division of the marital property, the case is submitted to a Master who will make recommendations which the parties can accept as part of an agreement. When the parties cannot agree to the Master’s recommendations, the case can proceed to a trial when the Judge will make the determination after considering all of the evidence.
DETERMINING MARITAL PROPERTY
Only marital property is subject to equitable division. Marital property is property acquired by either party during the marriage and the increase in value of certain non-marital property including: 1) property acquired prior to the marriage; 2) property acquired in exchange for property acquired prior to the marriage or 3) property acquired by gift or inheritance during or after the marriage.
MEASURING THE INCREASE IN VALUE OF NON-MARITAL PROPERY
The increase in value of non-marital property described above shall be determined from the date of marriage or later acquisition date to either the date of final separation or the date as close to the hearing on equitable distribution as possible, whichever date results in a lesser increase. If non-martial property loses value, then the decrease in value can only be used to offset an increase in value of other non-marital property.
DETERMINING NON-MARITAL PROPERTY
In addition to the non-marital property described above, non-marital property also includes the following:
- Property excluded by valid agreement of the parties entered into before, during or after the marriage;
- Property acquired after final separation until the date of divorce, except for property acquired in exchange for marital assets;
- Property which a party has sold, granted, conveyed, or otherwise disposed of in good faith and for value prior to the date of final separation;
- Some veterans’ benefits
- Property to the extent to which the property has been mortgaged or otherwise encumbered in good faith for value prior to the date of final separation; or
- Any payment received as a result of an award or settlement for any cause of action or claim which accrued prior to the marriage or after the date of final separation regardless of when the payment was received.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN EQUITABLY DIVIDING MARITAL PROPERTY
Equitable division of marital property does not mean a 50/50 split. Factors that are relevant to determine how to equitably divide the marital property include the following:
- 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 acquisitions of capital assets 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 marital property, including the contribution of a party as a 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;
- The tax ramifications associated with each asset to be divided;
- Expenses related to the sale or transfer of a particular asset; and
- Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.
Equitably dividing marital property requires experience and expertise. An experienced divorce lawyer will be diligent in identifying all of the property, determining which property is marital property, valuing the property, and then assessing how it should be divided to ensure that the division is fair considering the Pennsylvania factors. If you are contemplating a divorce or if you are a party to a divorce, contact an experienced lawyer at The Martin Law Firm today at 215-687-4053.