A Master’s Hearing – Equitable Distribution in Pennsylvania Divorce Cases
For most couples, equitable distribution of property is an important and necessary step that they must take before completion of their divorce matter in Bucks County, Pennsylvania matter. Whenever possible, we suggest that people resolve their issues by way of a property settlement agreement. This process is preferable, because parties get to choose the exact manner in which their case is resolved, all while keeping costs down.
In some cases, however, an amicable resolution may not be possible for a variety of reasons, at which point the scheduling of a Master’s Hearing becomes necessary. Getting to a Master’s Hearing takes time, money, and effort. Preparation of accurate, detailed documentation is crucial for purposes informing the Master of the composition of the marital estate and the manner in which it should be divided, in light of the equitable distribution factors to be considered.
What to Expect at the Master’s Hearing
If you find yourself at a Master’s Hearing, here is what you can expect:
1. The Master will gather background information from both parties. Be prepared to discuss the following:
- Your current employment and the corresponding income and benefits (health insurance, life insurance,401(k)/403(b)/457 retirement plans). If you are unemployed/not working, be prepared to explain why and provide proof; you likely will have to focus more on your earnings history as well.
- Your expenses – mortgage/rent, utilities, homeowners insurance, car payment, car insurance, medical bills, etc.
- Your separate estate – what have you accumulated post-separation (assets or debts) and what you have that is excluded from marital property on whatever legal basis.
2. The Master will go over the marital estate – the assets and debts. This is the point at which paperwork becomes crucial. Be prepared to verify dates, values, transactions, etc. The more prepared you are, the more quickly and easily you can determine what the marital estate is.
3. The Master will hear argument about how the marital estate should be divided and what credits/special considerations are due either party.
4. In Bucks County, all Masters discuss all cases, before making a recommendation. That occurs once the above steps are complete.
5. Once the Master comes back with the recommendation, the negotiation begins. Working within the framework the Master has provided, the parties and their counsel try to come to a mutually agreeable solution, understanding that both parties must give in the process.
6. Hopefully, the final step is putting the agreement onto the record in front of the Master, after which point equitable distribution is complete. Otherwise, the parties wait for issuance of the report and potentially proceed to a de novo hearing thereafter, but for most people, settlement at, or shortly after, the Master’s Hearing is the norm.