How Does Pennsylvania’s Equitable Distribution Model Work?

Posted on December 9th, 2021

Despite popular belief, when couples go through a divorce in Pennsylvania, there is not an even split of their assets. Pennsylvania follows the equitable distribution model where marital assets are divided fairly between the divorcing spouses. ‘Fairly’ in this instance specifically does not mean equal.

When Pennsylvania judges and courts are trying to determine what is fair, they use the model and its predetermined factors. Is it fair for the one partner who put the most finances into the marital assets to receive most of them? Or is it fairer for the partner who cared for them and the children to be able to maintain the lifestyle their partner promised them? Sometimes there are situations more complicated than that because of things like prior ownership, asset sustainability, and the abilities of each partner to consider.

Because of this, the equitable distribution model can be confusing to many divorcing couples. It’s important to let us explain it and understand as best you can if you’re facing divorce. If you can’t agree with your partner on how you should divide your assets, your assets will be distributed through the equitable distribution model instead.

What are the Different Factors of the Equitable Distribution Model?

There is a litany of factors to consider that each makes sense on its own. When you consider that some of the model’s factors can contradict, it can be hard to see how the court makes a final decision. According to Pennsylvania legislation, the factors are:

  • How long the marriage lasted.
  • Whether either spouse had any prior marriages.
  • Specific characteristics that determine the abilities of each spouse to care for themselves with or without certain marital assets, including age, health, station, income amount and source of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, and the needs of each of the parties.
  • How much one partner has financially contributed to the other’s education, training, and earning power.
  • How likely either partner is to acquire new capital assets and a better or new income.
  • What sources of income bother partners currently have, including but not limited to medical, retirement, and insurance benefits.
  • The standard of living that both partners are accustomed to living.
  • What contributions or lack thereof each party has made in both the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, and/or appreciation of the specific contentious marital assets.
  • The value of the property in the hands of either partner.
  • The economic circumstances of each partner post-divorce with the asset. This includes the federal, state, and local taxes that apply to the asset, immediate and certain, along with what expenses may be necessary to sell, transfer, or liquidate the asset, immediately or in the future.
  • Which partner will be the custodial parent of the divorcing couple’s children if they have any.

How Much Sway Does Each Factor Hold?

Each factor holds a different amount of power in different circumstances. More often than not, the factor that takes precedence over most of the other factors in a divorce is which partner is the custodial parent of the divorcing couple’s children. This only applies to couples with children.

What if a Divorcing Couple Has Children?

The court understandably prioritizes the needs of children over either parent. If one parent is the custodial guardian, they will receive whatever assets they need to provide for that child, save for the most extreme of circumstances. The main reason another factor from the equitable distribution model would take precedence over this is if it would lead to the children being worse off in the long run. For example:

  • If the divorcing couple owns a business that the non-custodial parent runs and operates, they will be more likely to receive the business. In this case, it’s in the children’s best interest that the non-custodial parent be able to produce the best income for the child’s present and future.
  • If the divorcing couple owns a vehicle that the non-custodial parent uses to travel to work, but the other parent stays at home with the children, it’s more likely that the non-custodial parent will receive this asset or a significant portion of the liquidated vehicle to purchase another.
  • If one partner is a stepparent and not a legal parent to some or all the children involved, they have no obligation to care for the children of a prior relationship. Assets cannot be given to a child’s birth parent on the basis that they should care for children that are not the other partner’s legal children.

What if a Divorcing Couple Has No Children?

This is when the equitable distribution model is at its most difficult to predict. Without children serving as the center point that other factors operate around, the court can look at the divorcing couple’s assets in a multitude of ways.

  • They can take into account that the couple has been together for years, with one surviving off the income of the other. After so many years, they cannot properly provide for themselves without certain marital assets. The same would not be true if one partner lived off the other’s income for only a handful of years.
  • If one partner has put their income towards the education of the other spouse and their ability to make an income, they don’t need to support them anymore. On the other hand, if one partner hasn’t yet finished that education or training, that needs to be finished so they can provide for themselves.
  • If one partner will be able to acquire more assets immediately, while the other can’t, it might be fairer to let the latter keep the current assets. At the same time, if the breadwinner produced all the finances to acquire those assets, and even put in the work to maintain them, it may seem like they’re being punished for success.

Ultimately, the court wants to be as fair as possible, what’s fair is usually considered what allows both partners to provide for themselves post-divorce. The court will use these factors to reason and decide which marital assets allow for each partner to survive from both a financial and emotional standpoint.

What Assets are Determined Outside of the Model?

Not every asset or responsibility can be determined by the equitable distribution model. The family home, for example, is not always considered a marital asset. If one partner purchased the house on their own before the marriage, or family members from one partner’s side of the family passed it down, the house will go to them.

If children reside in the family home, the family home will be given to the custodial parent to live in. This does not mean that parent keeps all the profit from the home’s sale but retains the right to live there while the other partner does not. The court can also force the divorcing couple to sell the home and split the cost, or even live it together until they do sell it.

Child custody is not considered within the model, and actually works based on the decisions made about child custody, visitation, and child support.

Contact Kalinoski Law Offices for Consultation

When you’re heading into a divorce, you need an attorney with the knowledge and understanding of the court system needed to form a strategy to get you everything you need. Lifetime Lawyer Craig Kalinoski has the experience and knowledge of Pennsylvania’s equitable distribution model that will set you up for post-divorce life. Contact our offices in Scranton for a consultation.

Category: Divorce

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Craig Kalinoski
Craig Kalinoski

Craig P. Kalinoski is a respected attorney serving clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With a focus on Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Civil Rights, he has established himself as a top-rated legal professional. Recognized as a Rising Star and admired by peers, Craig's commitment to excellence sets him apart in the legal field.


We fight for the rights of our clients in a wide spectrum of practice areas, ranging from criminal defense to family law and personal injury.

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