Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C.
Legal & Mediation Services
“Calming the Chaos, Creating Solutions”
Call for a Confidential Consultation
866-567-9029 or 215-752-6200
Practice Areas
Watch our Video

equitable distribution Archives

Student Loans

Student loan debt of one of the parties is considered a marital debt if acquired between the date of marriage and the date of separation. However, a student loan may not be subject to the same distribution percentages as the rest of the marital estate. Hicks v. Kubit, 758 A.2d 202 (Pa. Super. 2000) discusses the appropriate treatment of student loans in a divorce action. In Hicks, $30,776 in the way of student loans was borrowed during the marriage. The trial court only found a small portion of that total ($13,000) to be marital debt since it was deposited into a joint account and used for household expense. The balance of the loan was assigned to Wife. Wife raised an issue on appeal on the basis the entire loan should be considered marital debt. The Superior Court found that the trial court committed an error in only characterizing part of the total debt as marital, instead finding that the total loan amount acquired during the marriage would appropriate be characterized as marital debt.

Pets are Property

Many people consider their pets as members of the family and accordingly, when the family breaks up, the parties are concerned over who gets to keep the pets. While pets may be considered members of the family from the perspective of the owners, the courts in Pennsylvania deal with pets the same way as they deal with other inanimate personal property. In the event of a divorce, a count for Equitable Distribution must be raised in order to get the court involved in dividing any property. There are generally two options available when it comes to how property will be divided. First, the parties can reach an agreement on how they will divide property and submit this written agreement to the court so that in the event either parties does not comply, the disgruntled party can file for contempt and the court can assist in enforcing the agreement.

Preparing for Equitable Distribution

Equitable distribution is the term used in Pennsylvania referring to division of marital property at the time of divorce. Marital property will consist of nearly everything acquired in either party's name from the date of marriage through to the date of separation. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split of all marital property. Instead, the statute on equitable distribution sets out 13 factors to be considered. In any divorce involving equitable distribution, the parties are tasked with identifying all the property to be considered. Specifically, Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1920.33 discusses the requirement of each party filing an Inventory. The Inventory should list all marital assets and debts at issue. An Inventory must be filed prior to requesting a hearing on equitable distribution. Further, if you are served an Inventory first, you have twenty (20) days to file your own Inventory. In this regard, it is certainly helpful to have some understanding of what you and your spouse have prior to filing for divorce. You can supplement the list of marital property if you do not have knowledge of all the assets and debts at the outset.

Pensions and Retirement in Divorce

Pensions, as well as other retirement plans, are often one of the assets up for division in a divorce. The court will equitably divide the marital portion of a pension plan after considering all the relevant factors in equitable distribution. The marital portion of a plan would be the portion that accrued from the date of marriage through the date of separation. In some cases, the entire pension will be marital depending on the timing of the marriage alongside the start date of the pension plan. The marital portion will also include investment experience on the marital portion that accrues post-separation. It will not include contributions by the employee made post-separation.

Dividing Property in Divorce

Equitable distribution is the term used in Pennsylvania referring to division of marital property at the time of divorce. Marital property will consist of nearly everything acquired in either party's name from the date of marriage through to the date of separation. It will also include pre-marital assets that have increased in value during the marriage. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split of all marital property. Instead, the statute on equitable distribution sets out 13 factors to be considered. Those factors are listed in 23 Pa C.S. 3502. While the length of marriage is a factor in equitable distribution, it does not mean that assets won't be split at all in shorter marriages.

Impact of Inheritance

The receipt of an inheritance may impact your divorce or support case. Regarding divorce, and specifically equitable distribution of marital property, Section 3501 of the Divorce Code defines what will be considered marital property, and up for division, versus what will be considered non-marital property. Marital property includes all property acquired by either party from the date of marriage through the date of separation. There is a presumption all property acquired during the marriage is marital regardless of how title is held (e.g. individually vs. jointly). However, property received as a gift, bequest, devise or descent is non-marital per 23 Pa. C.S. 3501(a). Accordingly, an inheritance that is received during the marriage can still be claimed as non-marital property. As a practical tip, parties should avoid commingling inheritance funds with other marital funds. Inheritance funds may still need to be disclosed since the separate assets of the party are a factor for equitable distribution under 23 Pa. C.S. 3502.

Pensions in Pay Status

Pensions already in pay status at the time of separation require additional considerations in a divorce matter. The pensions can still be divided as a marital asset however the method of valuing the total value of the pension for distribution is altered. This is because often elections for survivor benefits are made at the time the benefits commence and are usually irrevocable. Accordingly, any survivor benefit should be valued separately and set against the value of the pension itself. Pensions in pay status also present a unique issue when it comes to support.

Important Dates for Defining Marital Property

There is often a misconception that assets and debts in individual names will not be divided as part of a divorce action. This is simply not true. Section 3501 of the Divorce Code defines marital property as anything acquired by either party from the date of marriage up to the date of final separation. It also includes any increase in value on pre-marital assets. In the event of reconciliation after separation, the time frame for items acquired during the marriage and ultimately subject to distribution would change as the Divorce Code refers to final separation as the date to consider when determining the marital estate.

Workers' Compensation Awards

Pennsylvania law does allow for workers' compensation awards to be distributed as marital property. The key factor is if the right to receive the award accrued during the marriage. Pennsylvania generally defers to the timing of the receipt of assets as opposed to the method in which it was obtained for classifying what will be presumed marital property. In that regard, the purpose of the award is not relevant in determining the marital status. However, the court still has the discretion to consider the purpose of the award and other equitable considerations when determining what percentage should go to each spouse in distributing the marital estate.

Dividing Personal Property in Divorce

Personal Property in a divorce includes the tangible items that you own, such as the furniture, the houseware, the televisions, the paintings, and other items in your home. When parties separate, one of the parties normally leaves the home and takes items with them. What is taken can often lead to a dispute. It is important to keep things in perspective. The court will normally assign garage sale value to the items which means you are not likely to get a huge credit if you walk away from the entire contents of the home. Some parties unrealistically expect a credit of $ 20,000 for all the contents of the home since they left with very little. This is not likely to happen. What the Court normally does is have the parties list out the items in dispute and if you cannot agree alternate on picking items from the list. If you do have valuables that have a higher value, such as artwork or guns, these things can be separated if you have an appraisal. You should have your certified appraisal before you go to court in order to obtain the highest value for this item. While you may be attached to certain items of sentimental value, it is important to weigh the cost of the item against the cost of fighting over the item. Most personal property issues resolve by agreement. When they do not, most get sent to arbitration to resolve unless the items are appraised. When you leave the house, it is best to take the items that you want to have when the divorce is finalized as it can often take years before these issues will even get heard by the Court. 

  • Avvo Rating
  • 10.0 Superb
  • 2014 top 100 lawyers ASLA
  • Overall Client Rating in Family Law - 4.8 out of 5.0

Office Locations

Langhorne Office
174 Middletown Boulevard
Suite 300
Langhorne, PA 19047

Toll Free: 866-567-9029
Phone: 215-752-6200
Fax: 215-752-6202
Langhorne Law Office Map

Doylestown Office
44 East Court Street
Doylestown, PA 18901

Toll Free: 866-567-9029
Phone: 215-348-3800
Fax: 215-752-6202
Doylestown Law Office Map