Does my spouse automatically get half of whatever we have?

No.  Under Pennsylvania law property is divided based on many factors which are spelled out in the Divorce Code.  Many things are considered such as how much each spouse earns, how each spouse contributed to the others’ ability to earn, and the contributions of each spouse to the family in raising children, if there are children of the marriage.  The court will also look at the ages and health of both spouses to determine what their future earnings potential is and what their needs are likely to be as well as other factors.

 

If I have retirement benefits from work that’s mine, right?

Maybe.  If the court determines that there are other assets to give your spouse to make the distribution fair then you may get to keep your entire retirement benefit in whatever form.  If not, the court may make you give a portion of that benefit to your spouse.

 

I have primary custody of my children so I get to keep the house, don’t I?

Maybe.  Often the spouse who has primary custody of minor children will want to keep the family home, and in many instances that can be done.  Sometimes there is an agreement that when the children reach the age of majority the house will be sold.  Economic reality does have to be considered, though, and if the spouse keeping the house cannot afford to maintain it then it may have to be sold.  There is no doubt that it is more expensive to live in two households than it is to live in one.

 

The law is pretty cut and dry, isn’t it?  My friend just got divorced and she has a similar situation to me so I should get the same thing she did, shouldn’t I?

Absolutely not.  No area of law that I have ever encountered has more shades of grey in it than Pennsylvania equitable distribution law.  It is very complex, but surprisingly fair if the facts and the law are analyzed precisely and thoroughly.  In no area of family law is it also possible to craft creative solutions to problems that really work for all parties.  That’s why it is so important to get solid legal advice by a professional who knows and respects every nuance in the law and is willing to master the facts of the case to match them to the law and get the best result for the client.

 

If the law is so complicated I will spend a lot of money in court hearings, won’t I?

Typically not.  Most equitable distribution cases are resolved by agreement.  It is helpful if both sides are willing to share information to make negotiations easy and if both sides are represented by lawyers who know the law and can predict the probable outcome if the case were to be decided by the court.