Who Decides How Property Is Divided in a Pennsylvania Divorce?
When divorcing spouses cannot agree on how to divide their marital property themselves, the court will take on that role. Pennsylvania law gives courts the power to divide marital assets and debts in divorce proceedings through a process called equitable distribution. If spouses are unable to come to their own property agreement in a divorce, the court will distribute it equitably by following these steps:
- Identifying property — Each spouse is required to fully disclose their assets and debts to each other and to the court. It is not uncommon for spouses to attempt to hide property or transfer it to someone else to keep it away from the other spouse.
- Classifying property — Each item disclosed is determined to be either separate property or part of the marital estate. Disputes often arise over the classification of assets and debt. Generally speaking, property acquired prior to the marriage, during the marriage through a third-party gift or inheritance, and after the date of separation (as well as all property directly traceable to these sources) is separate. All other property belongs to the marital estate and is subject to distribution.
- Valuing property — Each piece of property must be assessed a value so a true measure of the marital estate can be taken. Assessments of certain assets, such as real estate, business holdings, stock options, and artwork, can be hard to determine and are often subject to litigation.
- Distribution — Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 3502 requires the court to consider numerous factors in determining what percentage of the marital estate each spouse should get. Some factors relate directly to the acquisition of wealth, but weight is also given to intangible factors such as contributions to the home and childrearing.
But before going to court, spouses will attempt to negotiate a property settlement. If a valid prenuptial agreement exists, it usually forms the basis for these negotiations. If the spouses reach agreement, they present the settlement to the court for approval. The court generally approves negotiated settlements unless the terms violate principles of fairness.
The Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney & Associates, P.C. handles all aspects of property division during divorce. Call us at 215.493.3360 or contact our Yardley office online to schedule a consultation. We serve clients throughout Bucks County, including Newtown, Washington Crossing, and Richboro.