When divorcing couples in Pennsylvania are unable to resolve the issue of property division through negotiation, the family law judges tasked with resolving the matter base their decisions on the equitable distribution principle. This means that they strive to find a solution that is fair to both parties even if it is not equal. Marital property is divided equally in divorces in states with community property laws even when the marriage was a short one and one of the spouses was primarily responsible for its failure, but that does not happen in Pennsylvania.
An equitable outcome
In Pennsylvania, family law judges consider all of the facts before deciding how marital property should be divided. A spouse that sacrificed a career to raise children is likely to be treated far more kindly than an abusive or philandering spouse, and spouses who entered a marriage with considerable assets are likely to receive less than spouses who have little to fall back on. Other factors judges consider when making property division decisions include:
- The length of the marriage
- The contributions made by each spouse during the marriage
- The debts acquired by each spouse during the marriage
- The behavior that led to the divorce
- The ages and earning capacities of each spouse
- The ages of the children involved and the custody arrangements in place
Separate property and commingling
The assets that each spouse acquired before they got married are not normally divided in a divorce, but family law judges make exceptions to this basic rule when separate property has become commingled with the marital estate. This happens when marital funds are used to maintain, improve or repair a separate asset. For example, a piece of art that a spouse owned before they walked down the aisle could become subject to division if money from a joint bank account was used to restore or insure it.
Avoiding property division disputes
Property division disputes can become contentious in a divorce, and this is particularly true in states like Pennsylvania where equitable distribution laws make it difficult to predict how a judge will rule if the case goes to court. Couples who wish to avoid belligerent negotiations and public court battles can avoid them by acting proactively. When prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are basically fair and negotiated in good faith, they can determine how property should be divided before anger and bitterness complicate matters.