Equitable Distribution Topics

Equitable Distribution (Divorce Settlement) FAQ's

Equitable Distribution is the process by which marital property is divided by the court or an arbitrator in Pennsylvania. “Equitable” essentially means “what is fair based on the circumstances.” Factors that can influence equitable distribution include the relative ages and earning abilities of the parties, who has custody of the children, and any separate property owned by the parties, among other things.

In general, marital property is any property or asset a married couple acquires during the marriage. It also includes increases in value on separate property or properties accrued before the marriage. For example, money contributed during the marriage to a pre-marital, separately titled retirement account, such as a 401(k), is marital property.

In general, Separate or Non-Martial Property is property that a person brings into the marriage, is acquired by gift or inheritance, or which is earned post-separation. It also includes property acquired post-separation with separate funds, (as when a person purchases a home post-separation, but pre-divorce, with separate funds).

Any and all marital property is divided in Equitable Distribution. It can include bank and retirement accounts, houses, cars, and even the living room sofa. As a practical matter, however, the court usually does not want to involve itself in dividing up low-value personal property, such as furniture and household goods.

Getting to equitable distribution can be a lengthy and complicated process. First, an Equitable Distribution claim must have been raised in the divorce. Then, discovery must be completed if it is part of your case. Then, you must obtain a “grounds order,” establishing grounds for your divorce. Finally, you must file the appropriate paperwork to obtain a hearing before a divorce master in your county, including a document called a “pre-hearing statement,” which discusses your case and the assets at issue.

Nothing in the law prevents a party from moving out of their marital residence. However, there are potential consequences to consider. First, if there are minor children involved, it is prudent to obtain a custody agreement or order before moving out. Second, moving out can trigger an obligation of child and spousal support. It also generally gives the spouse remaining in the marital residence additional leverage in the divorce. You must also consider who is going to pay for the upkeep of the house, including the mortgage and property taxes.

Unless there is a court order stating otherwise, which is unusual and which you should know about, there is nothing to keep you from taking the personal property. However, a court could theoretically order you to return some or all of it if the other person files a motion requesting such relief. You will probably be safe if you only remove belongings that are personal to you, such as your clothes, toiletries, and sentimental items, and approximately one-half of the furniture and other household goods. You should try to be fair and not take all the most expensive items.

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Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

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