Marital Property and Equitable Distribution in a Bucks County, PA Divorce

One of the most important issues in a Bucks County, Pennsylvania divorce proceeding is the division of the marital estate, which involves identifying and establishing the value of marital assets and debts and then determining how to allocate same between the parties.

In some cases, the parties may be able to effectuate a property settlement agreement without court involvement. If this is simply not feasible, the parties may be forced to litigate the case. First, the case will be reviewed by a family master who will conduct an informal settlement-oriented conference to resolve issues such as:

  • equitable division of marital property, and
  • alimony

Get more information about a master’s hearing in a Bucks County divorce case. In the event the parties do not agree to the master’s findings and enter into an agreed property settlement order at the master’s hearing, either party can file exceptions and request a de novo hearing in front of a trial judge. In that case, a trial judge would decide the case and enter a divorce decree at the conclusion of the hearing (unless the parties request that the divorce decree be held for a particular reason).

What is Marital Property?

In Pennsylvania, marital property is defined as any property acquired by either party during the marriage. See 23 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated Section 3501. However, there are some exceptions.

An inheritance received during the marriage is not marital property, unless the recipient takes steps to convert the inheritance into marital property (i.e., by depositing funds into a joint account or transferring real property into joint names). Gifts received by either party during the marriage (other than gifts between spouses) are not marital property either and belong solely to the recipient. Property acquired prior to marriage (or in exchange for property acquired prior to marriage) is usually not considered marital property.

People tend to think of their marital estate as consisting of two types of assets: (1) real property and (2) all other assets. Real estate, or real property, includes the marital home, vacation homes, rental properties, investment properties, or any other interest in real estate. All other assets include savings/checking accounts, securities, bonds, stocks, retirement funds,retirement accounts, pensions, automobiles, household goods, jewelry, paintings, etc.

Equitable Distribution in a Bucks County, PA Divorce

Equitable Distribution – A Brief Overview

In a divorce proceeding in Bucks County, the court will turn to 23 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated Section 3502, which lays out 13 factors to consider when fashioning an equitable distribution award. They include factors such as:

  1. the length of the marriage;
  2. the age, health, station, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties;
  3. the contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party; and
  4. 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.

In practice, the masters tend to focus on some issues more than others, and an experienced divorce attorney can help you prepare accordingly.

Equitable Distribution Does Not Mean 50-50

Equitable distribution in a Bucks County divorce matter does not necessarily mean 50-50. In fact, many divorce cases result in equitable distribution awards that favor one party, such as 60-40 or even 70-30. See Ryan v. Ryan (Pennsylvania Superior Court, 2014) (court’s equitable distribution award of 60-40 in favor of wife upheld).

When making an equitable distribution award, the court is given broad discretion to consider the factors in section 3502 and the weight given to each factor, and there is no set formula that dictates how the division of the marital estate should be accomplished. The result tends to be fact-driven, and as indicated above, certain factors tend to be more important than others, and it is important to know which ones those are.