Many people believe that marital property is divided equally when a couple decides to divorce. States that divide marital assets in this way are known as community property states, but Pennsylvania follows what are called equitable property distribution rules. There are only nine states, located mainly in the western part of the country, that follow community property rules. Equitable distribution has been adopted in most states because it allows judges to make fairer decisions based on a number of factors.
Judges in Pennsylvania and other equitable distribution states generally consider the age and incomes of the spouses involved and the length of the marriage when making decisions about asset division. They may be reluctant to divide all marital assets equally if the couple has only been married for a short time, and they could make a more generous award to a spouse who has sacrificed a career in order to raise children.
Community property laws do not provide judges with this kind of discretion, but awards for alimony or child support may be adjusted when judges in these states feel that property was divided in an unfair manner. Many states with community property laws have alimony laws designed to provide judges with this kind of latitude.
State laws regarding the division of marital assets only become a factor when divorcing spouses are unable to reach an amicable settlement. There is always a certain degree of uncertainty with court proceedings, and family law attorneys may urge their clients to find a compromise if at all possible. Discussions over matters such as alimony and property division can quickly become contentious, but experienced family law attorneys may be able to help their divorcing clients to find common ground in order to avoid a protracted and costly legal dispute.