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Resolving Home Ownership Disputes in Your Divorce

When you’re getting divorced, issues of property division and who owns what can get very combative very quickly, and that can be especially true for your house.  Decisions need to be made about who will stay and who will go, or whether it’s best for the house to just be sold.  In addition to the emotional attachment you have to your “home,” there are also questions of what is “fair.” This is especially true in adversarial divorces where only one spouse contributed to the purchase and mortgage payments of the marital home. Things get even more complicated if the home was purchased by one spouse prior to the marriage. It’s entirely understandable for the spouse who was the original owner – or who provided the funding for the marital home – to object to distributing any part of property’s value to the other spouse.  If you’ve found yourself in a situation like this, here’s what you need to know.

Under Pennsylvania law, anything that is purchased during your marriage is considered marital property, no matter which of the two of you actually paid for it and regardless of whose name it was put into. If you are the one who provided all the funds, you should steel yourself now for the property division process to feel extremely unfair, as your soon-to-be-ex will be legally entitled to some portion of the equity in the property, whether they invested a penny or not. The same is true for any other forms of property, including, but not limited to, a 401(k) plan, stocks, retirement incentives, pension plans, bank accounts, investments, vehicles, ect.  People have even been forced to split airline frequent flyer miles that only one spouse earned because of work travel that occurred during the marriage.

If, on the other hand, the marital home was purchased prior to the marriage and is titled in only one spouse’s name, then that spouse is legally entitled to retain it, though the other spouse will be entitled to a portion of any increase in value that occurred over the course of the marriage. This is not only true for real estate, but all other forms of property that may have increased in value during the marriage.  In certain situations, you may be able to offset your assets against any assets that your spouse may have owned prior to, or which increased in value during, your marriage.

One way to avoid the issues that arise during property division is to obtain a well-crafted prenuptial agreement prior to the marriage that specifically addresses how any property is divided the event of a divorce. As difficult and uncomfortable it may feel to broach the subject of a prenuptial agreement with your fiancé, not to mention feeling downright unromantic, having one often makes things far easier on both spouses in the long run.

If you are considering a low cost divorce in PA or are in the midst of one and you need advice, contact our experienced attorneys today to set up a time to talk.

How Are Retirement Funds Handled in a Pennsylvania Divorce?

Going through a divorce forces you to look at nearly every aspect of your life from a new perspective, and to confront the reality that the emotional and financial foundation you’ve spent years buildings has to be re-evaluated and rebuilt.

Of all the assets accumulated through the course of a marriage, retirement funds are among the most challenging for many to address. In most cases, the funds represent both sweat equity from their labors to support themselves and their family, and a future they’d anticipated spending together, now taken away from them. The rules around retirement accounts have contributed to the sense that they are untouchable, and that can make negotiations around them fraught. Still, just as is true of bank accounts, stock portfolios, real estate and other investments, they are assets subject to Pennsylvania’s rules of equitable distribution. However, the prohibitions against early liquidation have led to special processes and forms being created to allow them to be divided without either party being penalized.

Are the Funds Marital?

The first question that needs to be answered is whether the retirement funds were accumulated during the course of the marriage or beforehand. Any accounts set aside prior to the marriage are considered separate, while those earned during the marriage are considered marital, and therefore subject to equitable distribution.  If the plan started after the marriage then all contributions are marital but if established before marriage and continued through the marriage it is considered co-mingled, and that means that some complicated tracking will need to be done to separate out what is marital. In most cases, anything that started after the date of separation is not considered marital or part of the marital estate.

The Question of Equitable Distribution

Once marital assets have been separated out and evaluated, the various factors taken into consideration for equitable distribution will be applied to the funds. Equitable distribution looks at a number of elements, including how long the marriage has lasted, how old each partner is, their health, income, age, and earnings capacity. These are generally used to calculate a percentage of assets each spouse will walk away from the marriage with.

What Types of Retirement Funds Are Owned?

Retirement plans can be pension plans, which are referred to as defined benefit plans, or they can be defined contribution plans such as 401(k) plans, profit-sharing plans, and IRA accounts. The difference is important, as defined benefit plans are funded by employers during employment but aren’t received until after retirement, while contribution plans are funded by both the employer and the employee. The two are treated differently because of the difference in how they are funded and paid out.

For pension plans, the courts generally assess the plan’s value, divide it according to the equitable distribution factor, and then creates either am immediate offset that allows the pensioned employee to retain the plan in exchange for another asset or a deferred distribution for the non-employee spouse that is similar to the plan in place for the employee eligible for the benefit. This usually means that payments begin being distributed monthly when each reaches the age of 65. Another option is for the court to order the spouse scheduled to receive benefits o pay a portion to their ex when they start receiving them.

If the employee spouse’s employer has been contributing along with the employee to a 401K or similar defined contribution plan, the account holder is often ordered to take the percentage of the fund’s value dictated by the equitable distribution calculation and rollover that amount into an IRA, or to liquidate the entire amount to allow the proceeds to be divided. When an account needs to be divided in a divorce, the courts use a special order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO, to ensure that rights are preserved and each spouse is treated fairly.

If you are concerned about the fair distribution of your assets in a divorce, our experienced attorneys can help. Contact us today to learn more about how your assets can be managed in a fair way, and all of the other challenging aspects of divorce.

What Happens if You Date During Your Divorce Proceedings?

Every divorce has its own reasons and rhythms, but in the end they’re all headed to the same resolution: the marriage is dissolved and each partner goes their own separate way. In light of this, many people want to move ahead and forward, even in the midst of divorce proceedings. For some, this means starting to date other people. But is that a good idea?

The question may seem like a legal one, but like so many other issues in divorce, the more important answer may skew towards the emotional impact of doing so.  Even in a no-fault state like Pennsylvania, where dating is unlikely to make a significant difference on the legal issues that need to be resolved, dating outside of the marriage is likely to have a “poking the bear” effect that will exacerbate and add unnecessary drama to every other issue that you’re confronting.

There are numerous factors that need to be evaluated before deciding to go out on a date. The most obvious ones have to do with minor children and finances. With reference to kids, you need to address whether going out on a date will interfere with your time spent with your children under any existing custody schedule, or whether trying to adjust your schedule to accommodate a date will be used against you. Your soon-to-be-ex may have an objection to the idea of introducing young kids to a new partner, or to having somebody new stay overnight.  Though the courts are unlikely to step in unless the new love interest is abusive or is in some other way a safety concern to the children or to either parent, dating will probably complicate your child custody negotiations.

The other issue that dating might have an impact on is equitable distribution, as it is entirely within your ex’s rights to question whether marital funds are being spent on wining and dining a new partner. If your split is going fairly well and both parties are eager to get it over with this is unlikely to create an issue. But if you are fighting over every nickel and dime or your spouse is feeling abandoned and replaced, you can be certain that pulling money out of a marital account to take a new interest away for a spa weekend is not going to sit well, and may even lead to a time-consuming discovery process or correspondence demanding that you reimburse however much you spent on the other person.

Dating during your divorce proceedings may be absolutely fine if you and your ex have already physically and legally separated, have an established child custody arrangement and have established separate bank accounts for your individual expenses. But if you’re still sharing the marital home or are in the midst of delicate, adversarial negotiations, you may want to think twice as to whether it’s worth the animosity and aggravation that it will inspire.

For more information on pursuing a divorce in Pennsylvania, contact our compassionate divorce attorneys to set up a time to meet.

Does an Uncontested Divorce in Pennsylvania Let You Skip Court?

We’ve all heard horror stories about long, ugly divorce battles. Instead of moving forward with their lives, once-loving couples put all their resources into going to court and trying to hurt each other, or at the very least to “win.” If you and your spouse live in Pennsylvania and are in agreement with how you want to end your marriage, you can skip court entirely by pursuing an uncontested divorce. Also known as a “mutual consent divorce” or a “no-fault divorce,” in Pennsylvania, an uncontested divorce is possible when both spouses agree on all the issues. Ian uncontested divorce allows spouses to finalize their divorce quickly, cheaply and with no emotional drama. If neither party is seeking support and there is no property to divide, the divorce itself can be finalized before any custody or child support issues are worked out. If you and your spouse have property to divide, or one person is seeking support, then those issues need to be worked out before the divorce is finalized.

The Mutual Consent Divorce Process

In Pennsylvania, a mutual consent divorce applies when couples have been separated for yes than a year. In order to obtain a mutual consent divorce, couples must state that their marriage is irretrievably broken and be willing to sign an affidavit stating their intent to end it. If all of those elements are present, then the process is simple and relatively painless.

It starts with a Complaint in Divorce being filed with the Prothonotary/Clerk of Courts by one of the spouses. The spouse that completes and files the Complaint will be the Plaintiff, while the other becomes the Defendant. After filing, the Plaintiff spouse has to “serve” or ensure that the other spouse receives a copy of the paperwork according to the rules of Pennsylvania. Service must be done within thirty days of filing the complaint.

Ninety days after the Defendant spouse has been served, both spouses need to sign an Affidavit of Consent. This document says that each spouse agrees to the divorce moving forward. Once the Affidavits of Consent are signed, each spouse can also sign a “Waiver of Notice” to skip any remaining waiting periods before asking for the final divorce decree. Once all documents have been signed, the Plaintiff spouse needs to submit all the paperwork to the Prothonotary/Clerk of Courts with a Praecipe to Transmit, which is a document showing the court you followed all the rules and asking for the entry of the divorce decree. Once submitted, the paperwork will be reviewed and approved by a judge for signature of the Final Decree of Divorce. Certified copies will be sent to both spouses and the marriage will officially be dissolved.

An uncontested divorce is easy to accomplish if you and your spouse don’t have children or aren’t arguing about assets or support. Things can be more complicated when there are children involved, though custody and child support can be negotiated at any time, either before or after the marriage is legally over. Many couples work with attorneys to ensure that they have not overlooked any important legal issues or to help with terms of child custody and support while still proceeding with an uncontested divorce to save time, money and headaches.
If you are considering divorce and would like to speak to an experienced, compassionate attorney who can help you get through the process as painlessly as possible, contact us today to set up a time to meet and discuss your situation.


You have realized that traditional divorces are expensive, especially with an average attorney’s rate ranging from $150 – $300 an hour. Here are some practical tips on how you can save money during a divorce.


Start with buying yourself a three-ring binder, tabs and pocket folders (make sure they have the holes punched in them for your binder). Your tabs will grow over time. To get you started think about financial accounts, property, taxes, loans, insurance, business, other assets, debts, children/grandparents (i.e., schedules), and pets. Leave a section for questions. Write them down as you think about them, you don’t have to get the answers immediately. Your organized binder will be a great reference for when you are ready to negotiate the settlement agreement with your spouse. You will have everything in one place and won’t be left worrying if you forgot something.

Do your homework

Figure out the value of your assets and debts. Start by looking at your credit report and create an assessment of your finances (you can get a free copy of your credit report online). For financial items often overlooked, click on the words overlooked finances. If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets click on hidden asset for more information. You want a clear picture of what your financial future will hold for you. Knowing exactly what you are dealing with can save you money when negotiating with your spouse for a settlement agreement.

Uncontested Divorce

Uncontested divorces are a cost-effective way of getting a divorce. Try to figure out how you and your spouse can have a mutually agreed upon divorce. If you can’t find a common ground you can end up in a long drawn out court battle, costing both of you a considerable amount of money. Some people have spent more money on their divorce then on their wedding. The lawyers can end up with more of your money in a divorce then either you or your spouse in the end. Ask yourself if a constested divorce is worth it.

Letting Go

When you and your spouse are ready to negotiate a martial settlement agreement, you will most likely have several personal items to go through, anything from the toaster to pictures. If you and your spouse cannot agree on whom should get an item consider why you want it. Often the hardist part of letting go is because of an emotional attachment, not the financial value. Figure out how to get what you really want, see if you can use it to negotiate for something else.

Emotional Control

Divorce is very emotional, but you don’t want to enter a settlement agreement fully pumped up on emotions. You want to make the best financial decisions possible for your future. When the emotions have ran their course, you are going to be left with the reality of what you previously negotiated. Find ways to blow off steam: therapist, friends, spiritual advisor, exercise or even punching pillows before you talk to your spouse. Think of this as a business plan. Being emotionally savvy will save you money, possibly get you extra money and give you a more secure future. Try to take the emotions out of the property settlement negotiations. Think of it as business. It will only work if you both get something out of the agreement.

Once you have gotten your binder and done your homework, contact No Contest Divorce Law, LLC for a free initial consultation at 215-398-6760. For an immediate free virtual consultation click on DIVORCE MASTER. The Divorce Wizard will analyze and qualify your case for an online Pennsylvania divorce, calculate your legal fees, and file your case immediately. It’s just like sitting in our office for a free consultation. Also, read our client testimonials to see what other clients think of our services.