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Equally dividing the marital estate in Pennsylvania

Posted by attorney Jeanne Costopoulos

Both spouses are entitled to an "equitable" share of the "marital estate". The marital estate generally consists of marital assets and marital debts. Marital assets and debts can be defined generally as any asset or debt acquired by either party during the marriage regardless of whose name it's in. There are some exceptions for pre-marital, post-marital, gifted, and inherited assets, but for the most part there is a presumption that all assets and debts are marital unless it can be established otherwise by the person claiming them to be non-marital. A very simplified way to get a rough idea of the marital estate and how to divide it is to first make a complete list of all of the marital assets and debts. Add up all the assets and then subtract all the debts and you will have the net worth of the marital estate. Divide this number by two if you are looking at a 50/50 distribution of the estate. Divide it differently if a different percentage distribution is being considered. Then make two more lists, one of all the marital assets and debts to be retained by wife and the other of the marital assets and debts to be retained by husband. If the debts being kept by wife are subtracted from the assets being kept by wife, the resulting number should equal half of the marital estate (assuming a 50/50 distribution is being done). The same is done with husband's list of retained assets and debts. If one of the party's total is higher than the other's, that person will owe the other money to make the totals even. A complete and accurate list of the marital assets and debts is essential before either of you are in a position to discuss how they should be fairly divided. An attorney can help you obtain information from your spouse if he or she does not voluntarily provide it to you. Also, assets such as retirement plans and real estate often need to be appraised to obtain their true current values. Marital fault, such as adultery or "indignities" may be relevant to an alimony claim, but otherwise marital fault does not play a huge role in distribution of assets and debts. The most significant factors in my experience as to whether or not someone will get more than 50% of the marital estate are how great the difference is between the parties' incomes, whether or not there are little kids living with one of the parties, and whether or not either of the parties will need to purchase their own health insurance after a divorce decree is granted. There are other factors, but in the cases I have handled those factors seem to be given the most weight. You may also make a "contribution" argument that you should get a percentage credit for non-marital money paid on a particular marital asset, such as when you sell a house you owned before the marriage and put the money down on the marital home. You can also seek reimbursement for a percentage of any non-marital money paid on marital debts post-separation. This guide contains a very generalized summary of how a marital estate is divided and there are many exceptions and rules that may apply. Also, each county has local rules specific to the county that you will need to be aware of if the case is not settled and goes into litigation.

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