Aside from child custody and support issues, the distribution of marital property – which includes both marital assets and marital debts – can be one of the most controversial issues in a divorce matter. In Pennsylvania, the process of distributing assets and debts in divorce cases is defined as “equitable distribution.” Contrary to what its name implies, equitable distribution does not consist of an equal division of assets and debts. Equitable distribution is based, instead, on what the court believes to be a fair distribution of property.
With some exceptions, any asset acquired during the marriage, regardless of how it is titled, is marital property and, therefore, considered part of the marital estate. Such assets include, but are certainly not limited to, real estate, pensions, 401k’s, IRAs, businesses, brokerage accounts, stock options, Restricted Stock Units (awards), stocks, bonds, CDs, money market accounts, bank accounts, the cash values of life insurance, automobiles, jewelry, and other items of personalty. Gifts from third parties and inheritances are typically excluded as marital assets, however, if these gifts were used to make a joint purchase – such as a home which is titled in both spouses’ names – or are deposited into a joint bank account, those gifts may be considered a marital asset and, therefore, subject to equitable distribution.
At Sweeney & Neary, LLP our attorneys work diligently to ensure every asset is properly classified (as marital property or separate property) and is included/excluded, as appropriate, from the marital estate. In addition, we regularly engage the leading experts in the fields of business valuation, real estate appraisal, and forensic accounting to ensure every asset is accounted for and properly valued.
When determining an equitable division of marital property, the court considers the following factors:
- The length of the marriage.
- Any prior marriage of either party.
- The age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties.
- The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.
- The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income.
- The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.
- The contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker.
- The value of the property set apart to each party.
- The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.
- The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is to become effective.
- The Federal, State and local tax ramifications associated with each asset to be divided, distributed or assigned, which ramifications need not be immediate and certain.
- The expense of sale, transfer or liquidation associated with a particular asset, which expense need not be immediate and certain.
- Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.
At Sweeney & Neary, LLP, our attorneys have extensive knowledge of the court system and various financial matters critical to obtaining an equitable and balanced distribution of marital assets and liabilities. The experienced family law attorneys at Sweeney & Neary, LLP, are available to help you to receive a fair outcome during the equitable distribution process. We are committed to making the property distribution process as smooth and stress-free as possible.