Property Division in a Divorce
Marital property, such as houses, cars, and cash, can be hotly contested during a divorce.
It can be difficult to determine how ownership should be assigned during a divorce between vehicles, furniture, funds, and countless other assets. You deserve a lawyer who can thoroughly guide you through the divorce process and ensure that the property from your marriage is distributed fairly and equitably.
At Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC, we understand how challenging separation can be. We’re here to help make your situation as easy as possible. Pittsburgh property division attorney Anthony Piccirilli can coordinate conferences between you and your spouse, aid in negotiations, and represent you during complex divorce litigation. Contact him today at (412) 471-5100 to schedule a free consultation.
What is Property Division?
There are many issues that you may need to resolve in a divorce, such as child custody, alimony, and division of property. Property division is arguably one of the most crucial steps in the process. It involves you and your spouse deciding how to split assets, belongings, debts, and other possessions between you.
Ideally, each spouse should come out of a divorce with ownership over their rightful property. But divorce is rarely “ideal” for anyone involved. You may need to make some sacrifices or endure a petty argument over who gets the panini press. That’s one of the many reasons why hiring an experienced property division lawyer is in your best interests and can help you achieve a better outcome in your divorce.
Property Division Laws in PA
According to Pennsylvania law, property is supposed to be equitably distributed in a divorce (23 Pa. C.S. § 3502).
“Equitable distribution” does not necessarily mean an equal, 50/50 split between spouses. Instead, it means that marital property should be fairly divided in a way that satisfies the needs and wants of each party.
Types of Property in a Divorce
There are two types of property in a marriage and divorce: separate property and marital property. While only marital property is divided during a divorce, it is vital to learn the difference between them.
Separate property describes the assets that belong to only one spouse. These are typically excluded during property division – meaning separate property is returned to the rightful owner rather than being divided.
Separate assets that you could keep after a divorce include:
- Items you purchased before the marriage
- Debts you owed before the marriage
- Gifts or inheritance you received, unless it can be proven your spouse is actually the owner
- Certain personal injury awards
- Items you purchased for yourself that your spouse never used
There may be exceptions to these examples. The courts must evaluate your case and ultimately decide what is separate property and what isn’t.
Generally, marital property consists of all the assets acquired by a couple during their marriage, regardless of who is listed as the legal owner. This is the type of property divided in a divorce.
Examples of marital property that may be “up for grabs” in a divorce include:
- Family pets
- Contributions to 401(k)s, pension plans, IRAs, etc.
- Tax refunds from joint income
- Any income earned by either spouse during the marriage
- Vehicles, furniture, jewelry, and other material possessions accrued during the marriage
- Money held in bank accounts (including separate accounts that were opened or contributed to during the marriage)
- Businesses or professions
Who Gets What in a Divorce?
When it comes to property division in Pennsylvania, there isn’t a clear-cut answer on which spouse will receive which marital assets. It all depends on your case, so it is critical to have a divorce attorney who understands the ins and outs of property distribution laws and how they apply to your case.
The courts consider several factors when dividing property equitably, such as:
- How long the marriage lasted: There may be a more balanced distribution of property if you and your spouse had a longer marriage with more intertwined finances.
- Marital misconduct: If one spouse suffered abuse or other hardships during the marriage, the courts may be inclined to give them more than half of the marital property.
- Health and age: If one spouse is in poor health or older age, they may be granted more than half of the property to ensure they receive adequate care after the divorce.
- The earning capacity of each spouse: The courts may consider future income and earning potential when dividing assets. For example, if your spouse has a lower level of education, fewer job skills, or limited job prospects, they might receive more property.
- The number of income sources each spouse has access to: If one spouse has substantial medical benefits, retirement funds, or other income sources, the courts may give the other spouse a portion to ensure both parties will have access to these resources.
- The value of the property: If one party requests a high-value asset, such as the family home, the courts might grant the other spouse more assets of lower value to compensate for the loss.
- Custody arrangements: If one spouse has primary custody of the children, the courts may grant the custodial parent more than half of the property to help them provide a stable environment for the kids.
- Tax implications: If a spouse requests an asset with significant tax implications when sold or withdrawn (such as real estate, stocks, or retirement accounts), the courts may treat the asset’s value as lower than it actually is to offset the tax disadvantage.
- Marital contributions: If the courts believe a spouse made more contributions to the marriage, they may grant that spouse more assets. For example, you may receive more property if you gave up your career to care for the kids or supported your spouse through medical school.
These and other factors can greatly impact your division of property. Ultimately, it is up to the courts to decide how to allocate your assets – which can be scary, especially if your spouse is convincing or known to play the victim. If you’re dealing with a difficult, sneaky, or narcissistic spouse, your lawyer’s role will be incredibly important in protecting your property.
No matter what, a property division attorney can help you secure crucial evidence and build an argument to support your case, as well as provide an effective means of communication between you, your spouse, and the courts.
How does property distribution work with a prenup?
Most prenuptial agreements delineate between separate assets and shared property. If you and your spouse have a valid prenuptial agreement, it will override state laws during your divorce.
This means you and your spouse’s property will be distributed based on the terms of your prenup rather than the principle of equitable distribution.
What happens to property acquired during separation?
If you and your spouse were separated when you acquired an item or asset, the courts will likely treat the property as separate property. Marital property only applies to assets acquired during a marriage, up until the date of separation. After separation, new property will remain its owner’s.
How do you divide intellectual property in a divorce?
Intellectual property is intangible property, such as patents, copyrights, and investments. In a divorce, these assets are subject to division like other types of property. Separate property is given to the rightful owner, and marital property is subject to division between spouses.
Essentially, if you created or obtained intellectual property during your marriage, your spouse may be entitled to a portion of its derivatives.
What if my spouse is hiding assets?
If you have any reason to suspect your spouse is concealing assets in your divorce, contact a lawyer immediately. We will investigate to determine if they are concealing assets and gather evidence that supports your claim for greater assets. Your spouse can be penalized for hiding assets. The courts may grant you a greater share of property due to your spouse’s deceit.
Contact a Pittsburgh Property Division Lawyer Today
Don’t get taken advantage of after your marriage ends. You have just as much of a right as your spouse when it comes to keeping the property obtained during your marriage. Make your voice heard with the help from the Pittsburgh divorce lawyers at Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC. Attorney Anthony Piccirilli knows distribution can lead to contentious discussions. Let our team be your advocate and aid you in creating an agreement that is mutually beneficial.