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Property Division in High-Asset Divorce Cases

By Sheryl Rentz on January 19, 2015

One of the most important and complicated parts of a high-asset divorce is property division. There are many assets that both parties may want, such as businesses, cars, boats, collectibles, and furniture. There are also non-tangible items that may be coveted, such as bank accounts, trusts, stock options, patents, life insurance policies, retirement plans, and copyrights. Before you can even begin to divide these assets, you must identify them specifically, determine when the assets were acquired, and give each asset a value.

Identifying property is not as easy as it sounds. Make a list of everything you own separately and jointly. You can always remove items later. Make sure this list includes every tangible and non-tangible item you can think of that has value. Next, you will need to describe each asset as marital or non-marital. Under Pennsylvania law, all assets acquired by either spouse during marriage are considered marital property. Non-marital items may include assets acquired before marriage, assets acquired through inheritance, and assets acquired after the date of separation.

Then, each asset should be given a value. This is easy when evaluating a bank account, but it can become more complicated when dealing with items of subjective value. An appraiser may be needed to value paintings, jewelry and other valuable items that do not have a set value.

Ideally, both spouses will come to an agreement regarding the division of property. Couples who negotiate terms on their own may submit a property settlement agreement to the court so that it is incorporated in the final divorce decree. When spouses cannot come to an agreement, a judge may have to step in.

How the court will handle the case depends upon a number of factors. If you have a valid pre-nuptial agreement, the court may simply follow that. If there is no pre-nup, the court may consider dividing the property by equitable distribution. This means that the property will be divided fairly, but it does not mean that the property will be separated equally.

To determine what is fair, the court will consider:

  • How long the spouses were married,
  • The ability of each spouse to earn a wage,
  • Contributions each spouse gave towards the other’s education and earning ability,
  • How each spouse contributed to the acquisition of assets, and
  • Whether either spouse will have custody of dependent children.

The court will not consider marital misconduct when dividing property, unless that misconduct affected the marital property. This is just one of many complicated issues that may arise during a divorce. If you are facing property division issues as part of a divorce, please contact a skilled Pennsylvania divorce attorney who has successfully handled high-asset cases.

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