How the Court Divides Assets in a Divorce


Divorce can take as little as three months to several years to finalize, and one of the biggest hang-ups of the process is the division of assets. That old saying “what’s yours is mine” takes on a whole meaning as marital estate is itemized, assessed, and distributed fairly. This step can be frustrating, especially if you don’t know what to expect. Here we’ll take a look at what Pennsylvania law says about marital property so you can go into negotiation or litigation as informed and prepared as possible.

Pennsylvania as an Equitable State

States are either classified as Community Property or Equitable Distribution. Pennsylvania is an Equitable Distribution state, which means marital assets are divided by the courts in the fairest way possible to each party involved. This does not always mean everything is split 50/50. Pennsylvania takes 11 different factors into account when dividing belongings. All property acquired throughout the duration of the marriage is typically considered to be marital property. Laws on marital property vary from state to state, and in Pennsylvania, a few specific assets are excluded from the conversation. These are:

  • Inheritances
  • Third party gifts
  • Any assets outlined as exempt by a valid Pre-Nuptial Agreement
  • Veteran’s benefits that are exempt from attachment, levy, or seizure. 


Possessions and Processes

Once the divorcing couple compiles a list of all assets acquired while they were married, they can begin to decide how to split these items between the two of them. The most controversial possessions usually end up being valuable items like homes, vehicles, retirement funds, collectibles, and appliances. Once the couple is unable to decide amicably how to divide all of these items, a third party can be brought in to help with negotiation. If negotiation is unable to settle the issue, then the division of assets is left up to the courts to decide.

The 11 factors utilized by the courts are then applied to the assets to determine distribution. Some of these factors include the length of the marriage, income and retirement of both parties, the value of each asset along with tax ramifications, cost of selling or liquidating an asset, and the status of each party as the custodian of a child. They also keep in mind the contribution of spouse in the form of support for education, job training, and homemaking.


These factors are where the fairness of Equitable Distribution versus a straightforward 50/50 split can make it difficult to predict how each asset will be divided. Once the negotiations reach the mediation phase in a divorce, division of assets becomes an intricate, complex procedure. When you have worked so hard to acquire and protect your possessions and property, you want to feel confident that what you walk away with is both fair and secure. To ease the stress of each phase of divorce and ensure the assets you acquired during your marriage are being divided properly and as amicably as possible, contact the experienced attorneys at Shafer Law Firm today.


Be sure to check out our commonly asked divorce questions download below:



About the Author: Elizabeth L. Spadafore

Elizabeth was raised in Meadville, PA and was a local small business owner before attending Duquesne University School of Law, where she received her Juris Doctorate degree in 2010.  She focuses her practice on family law matters such as divorce, custody and support. Her background as former County Solicitor for Crawford County Children and Youth services, combined with her experience in bankruptcy actions and personal injury actions, allows her to successfully navigate matters that are both highly sensitive and legally complex.