When couples begin the divorce process, all assets and liabilities need to be listed and valued in order to determine division between the spouses. Negotiation often involves one spouse being given certain assets in exchange for other assets of the same value - and greater need or emotional attachment are values along with cost that can be weighed in the negotiation process.
In Pennsylvania, if a divorcing couple cannot come to an agreement outside of court, all marital assets will be divided according to equitable distribution, which means, effectively, whatever the court thinks is appropriate after considering a number of factors. As long as both parties are reasonable, we encourage divorcing couples to avoid court so they can retain control of the division of their marital assets.
When most people think of property, they think only of assets, but debts are also considered property for the purpose of a divorce settlement. In order to divide assets and debts between the spouses, a thorough listing and determination of status is needed. That status can be marital, non-marital, or a combination of the two.
Given the high cost of higher education, student loans carried by either or both spouses can weigh heavily on financial decisions and life choices. Often it can delay the purchase of a house or starting a family. This can cause a great deal of stress. It's not surprising that 13% of divorced people say student loans were the major cause of their divorce.
An appraisal may be needed to ascertain an accurate value of an asset in a divorce or estate matter. Assets that may require an appraisal include real property, jewelry, vehicles, antiques, and even retirement plans. Parties may elect to use one appraiser or have their own independent appraisers. When choosing an appraiser, it is important to make sure the appraiser is licensed or certified. A licensed appraiser has met the minimum requirements for practice. A certified appraiser must complete additional classroom hours and practice in the field. A list of all licensed and certified appraisers is available online. You should also make sure the appraiser you select has prior experience with the exact type of appraisal sought. This would include experience in the geographic market, the type of property, and intended use of the property.
Certain accounts that may be considered marital property and up for division in the context of a divorce can have fluctuating value based on the market. For example, mutual funds, stock benefits, 401ks, and annuities will reflect gains and losses that can change daily. Similar to other assets, the cut-off date for value purposes is technically the date of separation however gains and losses on that date of separation value through the date of distribution are also considered marital. This can result in a significant sum for an account with a large balance or in the instance of a lengthy separation period.
Retirement plans are often one of the significant assets up for distribution in the course of a divorce. Careful attention should be given to the type of retirement plan at issue to avoid tax penalties and/or early withdrawal penalties to the extent possible. Additionally, the type of retirement plan will dictate what will be necessary in terms of documentation or court orders to effectuate the rollover. Non-qualified plans include individual retirement accounts or IRAs. These can usually be rolled over by completion of a form with the applicable institution. You should still do a direct rollover to a similar account to avoid taxes and/or withdrawal fees.
Diminishing credit is a concept that property brought into a marriage loses its separate nature and becomes marital in nature as the marriage progresses. The court may give credit for separate property brought into the marriage depending on the circumstances. Generally, any credit to be received decreases with the length of the marriage. For example, Bucks County will reduce the credit by 5% a year such that there is no longer a credit after 20 years. A prime example of a situation where this rule would be applicable is the purchase of a marital home. Say Spouse A contributed $40,000 of their pre-marital money to the purchase of the house. If the parties separated after 5 years, the amount of Spouse A's individual contribution is reduced by 25%. Accordingly, Spouse A would argue that 75% of the $40,000 down payment, or $30,000, is their separate property and not subject to equitable distribution in the divorce. In contrast, Chester County applies a 10% reduction per year so that after 10 years there is no credit. In the above example, after 5 years 50% of the credit will have vanished so that Spouse A would only be able to assert $20,000 as separate property not subject to equitable distribution.
Pennsylvania law does recognize workers' compensation awards as marital property subject distribution in a divorce action. In order for the award to be classified as marital, the underlying injury creating the eligibility for workers' compensation must have occurred during the marriage. Pennsylvania generally utilizes the timing of the receipt of assets for identifying marital property. 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.
In certain circumstances, the court may give credit for separate property brought into the marriage. Generally, any credit to be received decreases with the length of the marriage. For example, Bucks County will reduce the credit by 5% a year such that there is no longer a credit after 20 years. A prime example of a situation where this rule would be applicable is the purchase of a marital home. Say Spouse A contributed $40,000 of their pre-marital money to the purchase of the house. If the parties separated after 5 years, the amount of Spouse A's individual contribution is reduced by 25%. Accordingly, Spouse A would argue that 75% of the $40,000 down payment, or $30,000, is their separate property and not subject to equitable distribution in the divorce. Chester County may apply a vanishing credit over the course of 10 years such that the credit vanishes in 10% increments.