Most divorces in Pennsylvania are “no-fault” divorces. This means that you do not have to prove that your spouse was “at fault” to demonstrate grounds for divorce. Instead, you can pursue a divorce on “no-fault” grounds. There are two types of no-fault grounds for divorce:
- Mutual consent divorce. In a mutual consent divorce, one party files a divorce complaint and serves the other side. After a 90-day minimum mandatory waiting period, if both parties sign an “Affidavit of Consent” which states that they consent to the divorce, then grounds for a divorce can be established.
- One-party consent divorce. In a one-party consent divorce, the parties must be separated for one year. Once the parties have been separated for one year, if one party signs an “Affidavit of Consent” which states that they consent to the divorce, then grounds for a divorce can be established.
Prior to finalizing your divorce, it is important to ensure that you have reached a resolution of the financial issues involved. Pennsylvania Courts divide assets through “equitable distribution.” Equitable distribution means the courts look at list of factors to determine how the marital assets and debts should be divided. The factors considered by the Pennsylvania Courts are:
- 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.
- The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.
- The opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income.
- The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.
- 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.
- The value of the property set apart to each party.
- 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.
- The Federal, State and local tax ramifications associated with each asset to be divided, distributed or assigned, which ramifications need not be immediate and certain.
- The expense of sale, transfer or liquidation associated with a particular asset, which expense need not be immediate and certain.
- Whether the party will be serving as the custodian of any dependent minor children.
To divide the marital assets, it is important to first determine which assets are marital and which are non-marital. Generally speaking, marital assets are those acquired during the marriage, except for assets acquired by gifts or inheritance. Non-marital assets are assets acquired before the marriage, after separation, or by gift or inheritance. However, there are exceptions to these rules. For example, it may be possible to argue that property acquired by gift or inheritance was “co-mingled” with marital property and should be treated as marital. We will help you understand how these definitions of marital and non-marital property apply to your case so that we can make the strongest arguments on your behalf.
Marital assets are not necessarily divided equally between spouses. The Court will consider the factors above and then decide how the assets should be divided. It is important to work with an attorney to determine the best arguments to present in your case to ensure that the Court will award you a fair share of the assets.
In many cases, the parties to a divorce are able to negotiate an agreement about how to divide the assets. If you are able to negotiate an agreement, you may not need to appear in court at all.
Discovery and Obtaining Information About Assets
We often meet with clients who don’t feel they have sufficient information about the assets of the marriage. There are several ways we can work with you to obtain this type of information. We can use formal Requests for Production of Documents and Interrogatories to require the other party to provide certain information. If necessary, we can use more aggressive means of discovery such as depositions or hire a forensic accountant to help us determine the full extent of the assets. We have a network of forensic accountants and other professionals to assist our clients in this process, when needed.
Types of Assets
Clients often have questions as to how certain assets, such as trusts, pensions, or businesses, will be valued and divided. These assets are treated in the same way as other assets. The court will determine whether or not they are marital assets, determine the marital value, and then decide how they will be divided. However, these are often highly valuable assets and may require the analysis of an expert (such as a business valuation expert, accountant, or actuary) to determine the marital value. If your marital estate includes these types of assets, we can help you identify what information or experts are needed to ensure that your interests are protected.