“Don’t Touch It! Dissipation and Dividing the Marital Property in Pennsylvania.”

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With the filing of a divorce in Pennsylvania comes the dividing up of all the marital property. Splitting up all the items that were bought during the marriage and deciding who gets what is easily one of the most complicated and lengthy ordeals in all of family law. This is true even if you’re not a millionaire with multiple houses, cars and yachts. This process of deciding who gets what is known as equitable distribution here in Pennsylvania and it’s not as simple as, ‘I owned that before we got married”, or “that’s mine, I paid for it”.

You’ve heard of the old saying, “what’s mine, is yours.” In equitable distribution the court decides not only who gets to keep assets like the car, but also how to split up and divide any debt.

Generally speaking, if something was purchased during the marriage, it will be considered marital property; the court treats the item as if both parties own it and therefore are entitled to some portion of it. So, while the ex-husband may get to keep the car, the ex-wife may be entitled to get half of the money the car would be worth if it were sold.

What about something that was bought before the marriage? Generally speaking, the person who bought the item gets to keep it; the court considers that person to be the one who owns it. But be careful! Sometimes, even though an item was owned before the marriage, the soon to be ex-spouse can be entitled to a portion of the increase in the value of that item. This means that just because you owned something before you were married does not mean that it’s entirely yours to do with as you like.

There can be legal ramifications for using the money in a bank account you thought only you owned, or for cashing in your 401(k) while going through your divorce. This use of possible marital funds is what’s known as dissipation. And again, there can be legal consequences.

The safest thing to do is to consult with an attorney about what you can and cannot do with these assets and your property. If you’re not sure if you’re the only one who owns the asset, don’t move it, don’t spend it, don’t sell it! Then contact our Pittsburgh-based family law firm to talk to one of our experienced attorneys. We can assist you with all issues pertaining to divorce and equitable distribution.