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.
Section 3501 of the Divorce Code sets out what property will be considered non-marital property and therefore not subject to equitable distribution in a divorce case. Any property acquired prior to the marriage that has not increased in value during the marriage is non-marital as well as any property acquired after final separation but potentially prior to the entry of a divorce decree as long as marital property was not used in its acquisition. Any inheritance received is treated as a gift and will also be deemed non-marital so long as it is not subsequently commingled with marital funds. The court will also not look at property that was disposed of in good faith while the marriage was intact. An example would be property sold to a family member for its fair market value. Veterans' benefits cannot be attached, levied or seized except in the case where a portion of the veteran's retirement pay was waived in exchange for the benefits. Finally, any payment from a cause of action or lawsuit where the underlying claim occurred before the marriage or after separation. Property acquired prior to the marriage or in exchange for said property is not marital as well as property expressly excluded by valid written agreement of the parties at any time.
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.
Property acquired prior to the marriage or in exchange for said property is not marital however the increase in value of that property during the marriage is up for distribution. Pursuant to 23 Pa. C.S. §3501(a)(1), any increase in value for non-marital or separate property should be measured from the date of marriage or date of acquisition through the date of separation or date close to the equitable distribution hearing, whichever date results in a lesser increase. This provision is intended to protect the party with the interest in the non-marital property in situations where there may be a lengthy time period between when the parties separate and when they get to the point of dividing the property.
Section 3501 of the Divorce Code defines what will be considered marital property versus what will be considered non-marital property. Specifically, marital property will include 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). It will also include the increase of value of any non-marital property during the course of the marriage. 23 Pa C.S. 3501 goes on to list what property will not be considered marital under the statute. Property acquired prior to the marriage or in exchange for said property is not marital as well as property expressly excluded by valid written agreement of the parties at any time.