Property disputes tend to occur in many divorce cases. When contemplating divorce, a person must understand the basics of how property is handled by the court. For example, a person needs to understand the difference between marital property and separate property in divorce cases.
Marital Property Defined
Marital property is property of any type that spouses obtain during the course of a marriage. Any assets obtained during a marriage are presumed to be marital property. If a dispute arises regarding what is or is not marital property, the burden is to demonstrate that something is not marital property.
Separate generally is considered to be property of any type that a person owned before a marriage. In addition, there are limited instances in which certain transactions that occur during a marriage may not result in the creation of jointly owned property. For example, if a spouse inherits property from a parent during the marriage, that property typically will be considered separate and not marital.
Debts and Divorce
Debts are handled in the same way in divorce cases. Debts accumulated prior to marriage are considered separate. Debts acquired during a marriage are considered marital. This includes debts that technically were amassed by only one spouse. For example, an auto loan obtained by one spouse will be considered to a joint marital debt.
Equitable Division of Marital Property and Debt
Pennsylvania utilizes the equitable division standard to deal with marital property and debt. Equitable division does not mean that the assets and debts of a marriage are divided equally. Rather, the assets and debts are divided in a fair and equitable manner based on the specific circumstances of the parties to a divorce.
Property Settlement Agreements
Divorce courts favor situations in which a divorcing couple is able to reach a settlement of property and debt issues. Courts generally permit divorcing spouses time to negotiate a property settlement between them.
If the parties can reach an agreement, it is committed to written form. The property settlement agreement is then reviewed and approved by the court.
Court Hearing or Divorce Trial
If the spouses cannot reach agreement, courts schedule a hearing to address property and debt division. If a variety of matters are disputed, courts schedule a full-blown divorce trial to resolve contested issues in a divorce case. A divorcing couple is able to present evidence in the form of documents and testimony in regard to the division of marital property.