What does equitable distribution mean?

When you enter the divorce process, you must figure out how to divide your marital property and debt. If you can come to an agreement with your spouse in regards to who gets what, you can come to a decision that makes sense for both of you. But if you disagree with one another, a judge may need to decide what happens in terms of property distribution.

Family court judges make decisions based on the law and unique factors about your marriage. The overall goal of property division in Pennsylvania is "equitable distribution." In essence, this means the property division must be fair, which may not necessarily be a 50/50 split.

Separate and marital property

There are two categories of assets in a divorce proceeding: separate property and marital property. Separate property includes property either of you acquires before marriage, gifts or inheritances to one spouse, property either of you acquires after separation or property you exclude by a prenuptial agreement. 

However, anything you acquire during your marriage counts as marital property. This commonly includes real estate, retirement accounts, furniture, vehicles, investments and businesses. The same is true of debts you accrue during your marriage. Common marital debts include loans, mortgages and credit card balances.

Fairly dividing marital property

Because Pennsylvania has equitable distribution laws, the courts divide property according to what a judge deems to be fair. Judges consider a wide variety of factors when making these choices, including:

  • The length of your marriage
  • Both of your incomes, age and health
  • Whether either of you has significant separate property
  • The standard of living of your marriage
  • Future earning capacities

One important thing to remember is that judges do not consider any type of "fault" in these choices. This means that, even if one spouse's actions caused the divorce, it does not play a role in the property distribution process. 

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