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How does equitable distribution work?

Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. During divorce proceedings, property division should be made in fair, but not necessarily absolutely equivalent, percentages.

Under equitable distribution, courts must divide marital real and personal property, cars, stocks and bonds retirement accounts such as profit or pension plans and cash and savings accounts. Other property includes patents, copyrights or inventions. The court may also divide business interests in partnerships, professional corporations as well as a good will component.

Marital property is all property that either spouse acquires during the marriage up until the time that the couple separates. It also includes any increase in value on non-martial property received through gift or bequest. Any increase in value of property owned before marriage or property acquired in exchange for previously-owned property also falls within this category.

Examples include gifts between the spouses, a non-martial asset placed in both names after marriage, retirement benefits, inheritance after distribution of the estate, increase in stock value, personal injury settlements if the injury occurred during marriage, and any property classified as marital in a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement.

Martial property is not comprised of property acquired before marriage, exchanged for premarital property or acquired after separation at the end of a marriage. Professional degrees, the disability portion of a retirement policy if a spouse has a disability, some veterans' benefits and a railroad retirement pension are not marital property.

Courts consider several factors when dividing martial property. These include the length of the marriage, any previous marriages of either spouse and each spouses' age, health, income sources and amounts, vocational skills, ability to obtain employment, liabilities, size of their estate and their needs.

Other factors include a spouse's contribution to the education and training of the other spouse, opportunities for future acquisitions of assets and income, each party's contribution to acquiring, preserving or appreciating property and the parties' standard of living.

Each party's economic circumstances are also considered, including the tax consequences when the property is divided. Which parent receives child custody is also an important factor.

Ann experienced family attorney may be able to assist a spouse with determining the value and fair distribution of martial property. Lawyers can also assist couples with the drafting of postnuptial or prenuptial agreements that can help prevent disputes during these proceedings.

Source: Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services, Inc., "Equitable distribution," Accessed Feb. 26, 2017

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