Our Attorneys Answer the Most Frequent Questions Asked by Divorcing Couples in PA
Individuals facing divorce or those involved in a custody matter, no doubt, have many questions. In addition, family law matters often cause emotional stress. It is natural to feel alone, lost, depressed or overwhelmed.
Our divorce and custody lawyers are here for our clients. In addition to providing legal support, we are emotionally supportive of our clients. We know you have a lot of questions. Can parents sue for sole custody? How long does it take for a divorce to become final? Can men collect alimony from their wives? Read through our FAQ page to find out what couples are most likely to ask when preparing to separate for good.
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What Property and Assets are You Entitled to in a Doylestown, Pennsylvania Divorce?
How Do Marital Assets Get Divided in Bucks County, Pennsylvania Divorces?
1. Marital assets are typically acquired during the marriage.
2. PA family law courts divide marital assets via equitable distribution.
3. The distribution is not a 50/50 approach, but rather what is fair under the circumstances.
4. In some cases, one spouse may receive more than 50%.
See detailed discussion of property division in Pennsylvania divorces in the FAQ below.
FAQ: I think my husband and I are heading toward a divorce. We’ve been married for almost 6 years. We had a long-distance relationship prior to getting married. My husband was in Doylestown, PA and I was in New York City. After we got engaged, we decided that we would live in Pennsylvania. I gave up my job in NYC and moved to Doylestown after we were married. We have 2 children under the age of 10, and I am a stay at home mom. Our family home was purchased in my husband’s name, as were his car and my car. We do not have a prenup. What am I entitled to in the event of a divorce? Does the fact that the house and cars are in my husband’s name affect what I may get? Where do we file if we want to handle the divorce ourselves?
Answer: I will answer this question generally as I cannot properly evaluate your situation without knowing other information. There may be additional marital assets that are subject to equitable distribution, such as investments, other real estate, 401ks, etc.
Equitable Distribution of Assets in Pennsylvania Divorces
In Pennsylvania, the process of dividing marital assets and debts is called equitable distribution. Marital assets and debts are typically assets or debts that were acquired during the marriage. Even though your house and cars are in your husband’s name only, this does not mean that they are not subject to equitable distribution.
Equitable distribution does not mean all marital assets/property are divided equally. Rather, it is a division of property that is fair under the circumstances. Thus, one of the spouses may receive more than 50% depending on the circumstances.
Bucks County Master’s Hearing
Since you and your husband live in Bucks County, you will file for a divorce in Bucks County. If there is a dispute about how to divide the marital assets that can’t be resolved by agreement, the case will eventually be reviewed by a Family Master, who is an attorney representing the Court as a mediator. The Master will conduct the hearing, and the goal is for the parties to settle without appearing before a judge. The Master will make a recommendation as to how the marital assets and property should be divided after considering all the evidence, argument and other relevant factors. The parties can accept what the Master suggested or the parties will begin to negotiate based on the Master’s suggestions. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement they can request that a Judge decide their matter at a hearing.
It is best that you consult with a divorce lawyer in Bucks County to ensure that you receive what you are entitled to in the event of a divorce.
Doylestown & Newtown Divorce – Do You Have to Pay for Your Ex’s Student Loan?
Question: My wife and I are getting a divorce. We live in Newtown. We both worked full-time until we had kids. We decided she would work part-time so that she could take care of the kids, instead of our kids having to be with a babysitter most of the time. How do our property and assets get split up? I have a 401K that I started before we were married. Does she get part of that too even though I had it for years before we got married? Isn’t it true that she can’t get the property and assets I had prior to marriage?
Answer: In Pennsylvania divorces, marital assets and property are spilt up via a process called equitable distribution. The term is misleading because one would assume that a couple’s marital assets are spilt 50/50. However, this is not always the case.
Pennsylvania courts do not automatically divide a divorcing couple’s property in half. Courts look at many factors when dividing marital assets. In fact, there are 13 factors court must consider pursuant to Pennsylvania divorce laws, such as:
- The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.
- 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.
To see a discussion on all 13 factors, see Newtown Divorces & Equitable Distribution: How Courts Divide Marital Assets.
Therefore, you could get more than 50% of the marital assets or you could get less than 50% depending on the court’s determination. The predominant factor is the parties’ respective incomes and ability to build back an estate of their own post-divorce. The Court considers that the income superior spouse will be able to build back their estate quicker than the income inferior spouse. They will generally award a greater percentage to the income inferior spouse, depending on the size of the marital estate and the income inferior spouse’s other financial resources.
Retirement plans and 401Ks are assets and are generally divided between divorcing parties. Even though you had the 401K prior to marriage, the marital portion and any gains on the pre-marital portion will likely be subject to equitable distribution, unless some part of the plan is considered separate property.
While separate property is not subject to division generally, premarital separate assets can become marital assets over time. This is called the “vanishing credit.” Though this doctrine is not binding law in Pennsylvania, different counties may apply this doctrine. Bucks County is one of those counties. When vanishing credit is applied in Newtown, Bucks County, divorce cases, premarital assets slowly become marital assets at a rate of 5% per year during the marriage. Depending on how long a couple is married, even separate property may become 100% marital property. There are however, exceptions to applying the vanishing credit.
Equitable distribution is complicated, and it is best that you speak to one of our divorce lawyers in Newtown, Bucks County, who can assess your situation and explain how retirement plans may be divided and how the vanishing credit may apply.
Newtown Divorces – Does Adultery Affect the Division of Marital Property & Assets?
Question: I recently discovered my husband has been unfaithful. I want a divorce. I have been a stay at home mom for the last 5 years and have put my career on hold for him and our family. We live in Doylestown, and I want to stay in the home. How will the court divide our marital property and assets? Will I get more of our property and assets because he cheated on me?
Answer: In Pennsylvania, courts will divide marital assets through a method called equitable distribution. There are factors set out by statute that the court has to consider when dividing marital assets.
Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean that the marital assets will be divided equally. A party may receive more of the marital estate after the court considers relevant factors pursuant to the law. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to:
- 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.
For a discussion of all relevant factors, see Equitable Distribution: How Do Courts Divide Marital Assets in Bucks County Divorces?
When a party cheats on his or her spouse, it has no impact on how the marital assets are divided. However, it may have an impact on other issues in a divorce action, such as alimony. Visit our PA divorce library for more information.
It is important to note that you may resolve how the marital estate will be divided without going to court. You may resolve the issue privately with your soon-to-be-ex without involving the court.
If the issue cannot be resolved between the parties, Bucks county divorce actions that involve property distribution disputes will be reviewed by a Family Master first. At the Master’s Hearing, the Master will make recommendations as to how the property should be divided. If parties can come to an agreement under the framework of the Master’s recommendations, then there is no need to go to court. However, if parties cannot come to an agreement, then the issue will be decided before a judge. For a detailed discussion of a Master’s Hearing in Bucks County divorces, see Doylestown and Newtown Divorce Cases – Master’s Hearing for Equitable Distribution of the Marital Estate.
It is best that you discuss your case with a Bucks County divorce lawyer who can answer all of your questions regarding equitable distribution in a Pennsylvania divorce. Feel free to call our office to schedule an appointment.
Newtown, Bucks County Divorce Cases - What is a Master's Hearing?
What is a Master’s Hearing in Bucks County, Pennsylvania Divorce Cases?
Short Answer: Pennsylvania divorce cases filed in Bucks County are first heard by a Family Master in a Master’s Hearing. About the Master:
- is court appointed;
- resolves contested economic divorce matters (including dividing marital assets and alimony);
- conducts a settlement-oriented conference to help parties come to a resolution without a judge;
- provides recommendations as to how the marital assets should be divided.
If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the parties request a new hearing before a judge.
See a detailed discussion of a Master’s Hearing in Bucks County divorce cases in the FAQ below.
FAQ: My wife and are I separated. My wife is living at our house in Doylestown, and about 2 years ago, I moved to an apartment 5 minutes from our house. We have come to an agreement about the custody schedule, and it was easy to agree because we both believe our children need both of us in their lives. However, when it comes to dividing our property and assets, we cannot come to an agreement. My wife thinks that she should get more than 50% of our assets and property. Family members have told me that we will have to appear before a Master who will make recommendations as to how the marital estate should be divided. What is a Master’s Hearing? Do I have to agree to the Master’s recommendations?
Answer: Because you are both in Doylestown, your equitable distribution (dividing of assets) matter will be filed in Bucks County. Economic claims, such as dividing marital assets, are heard by a Master. A Family Master is an attorney appointed by the court to try to resolve contested divorce matters such as equitable distribution and alimony. A Master conducts a hearing or a settlement-oriented conference to help parties come to a resolution without the costs associated with a trial before a judge.
At the hearing, the Master will review the previously filed financial information and collect additional information, evidence, financial documents, testimony, etc., examine the documents/information thoroughly and provide recommendations as to how the marital assets should be divided. It is important to know that failure to submit the required documentation prior to the hearing deadlines may result in their exclusion from consideration by the Master and the Court.
The parties will then typically start to negotiate within the Master’s recommendations. After negotiations, if the parties can come to a resolution, the agreement will be put on record before the Master.
However, if parties cannot come to an agreement or think that the recommendations are unjust, they do not have to accept the recommendations. Parties should not feel pressure from their lawyers or the Master to accept the terms if they feel there is a legitimate legal argument or factual error in the recommendation.
If the parties do not accept the Master’s recommendations, the Master will file a report with the court. Then, parties would file an appeal and request a new hearing. However, the hearing will no longer be before a Master; it will now be before a judge. This is a formal court hearing which has rules as to how the hearing would proceed. Parties should know that the judge may actually give parties less than what the Master recommended.
For more information about a Master’s Hearing, see Doylestown and Newtown Divorce Cases - Master’s Hearing for Distribution of Marital Assets.
It is best that you talk to a divorce attorney who has extensive experience with equitable distribution of marital property well in advance of an equitable distribution hearing so that all of the required filings can be submitted to the Court, and you are well prepared to present your case to the Master and get the right result.