Reblog: In Pennsylvania, What Happens if We Divorce Without Dividing Our Property?

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Most couples can agree to get a divorce, but few can agree on how to divide their property.  As a result, equitable distribution in Pennsylvania can be very costly and require the assistance of an attorney and experts, such as real estate appraisers and forensic accountants.  Many couples, therefore, either choose to not or cannot afford to utilize equitable distribution.

What happens to the marital property then?  Who owns the property?  Who can possess the property?

The answer is enunciated in 23 Pa.C.S. § 3507(a), but understanding the statute requires an understanding of the legal terms it employs.  The two terms are “tenancy of entireties” and “tenancy in common.”  When a husband and wife purchase/receive property, they own it as “tenants by the entireties.”  Essentially, they own it jointly and there is an automatic transfer of the property from one spouse to other upon the death of one spouse.  Prior to the conclusion of equitable distribution, the court can step in and divide this property between the spouses “equitably,” based on the factors in 23 Pa.C.S. § 3502.  Once the divorce is concluded, however, the property converts to “tenancy in common,” and the ex-spouses own it as “tenants in common.”  Tenants in common are more of partners.  They own the property equally in separate shares.  One tenant in common could sell his or her share or will it any one they want.  The property will not automatically pass from one tenant in common to the other.

The conversion of the property can cause issues if either party wants to pursue their share of the property in court.  At any time, either party could file for the sale of the property, so that the proceeds can be divided equally between the parties.  This could be to the detriment of one party if in equitable distribution the could had the power to grant them 60% of the equity in the property, but now, because of the divorce and conversion, the court is capped at 50% of the equity.

This also creates the risk for unfair surprise and a lot of financial uncertainty.  For example, if both spouses own a house, divorce without pursuing equitable distribution, and one spouse voluntarily moves out of the home, at any time that ex-spouse could file an action with the court to force the sale of the other ex-spouses home.  The house will either be sold or the ex-spouse residing in the house will need to buy-out the other ex-spouse.  These are only some of the negative consequences of not pursuing equitable distribution.

The best alternative to a nasty fight over property is to reach an agreement on how to divide the property between of you.  If this occurs, it is strongly recommended that even you hire an attorney to prepare a property settlement agreement rather than simply divorcing without addressing your property issues.  Failure to do so could be disastrous or cause issues with lenders.  The property settlement agreement can properly avoid the surprise and financial uncertainty described above.

If you have any questions regarding the division of marital property, please contact me directly at mhovey@gmail.com  Thank you.

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Reblog: In Pennsylvania, Can I Force My Spouse to Move Out of Our Home?

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A common scenario after a husband and wife separate is neither party wants to move out of the marital residence/home.  For a variety reasons (e.g., financial, children, proximity to work, hope for reconciliation, spite, etc.), the parties remain in the same home, as roommates and attempt to maintain as much normalcy and civility as possible.  Often, unfortunately, the parties cannot make it work and one, or both, of the parties eventually wants the other other spouse out of the home.  The question is presented then: how can I force my spouse to move out of the house?

23 Pa.C.S. § 3502(c), “Family Home,” provides that “the court may award, during the pendency of the action or otherwise, to one or both of the parties the right to reside in the marital residence.”  In legal terms, we refer to this as filing “exclusive possession of the home.”  It is strongly recommended that you hire an attorney to prepare and prosecute the Petition for Exclusive Possession on your behalf.

In determining to whom to award exclusive possession of the home, the court will consider a variety of considerations, such as whether the party seeking relief can afford to maintain the home on his/her own, the impact of the award on any children, whether the other party can afford independent housing, any marital misconduct of the parties, and other considerations.  As a result, be especially prepared to demonstrate the financial abilities of both parties.  The court can also limit the award of possession of the home.  In other words, you could be granted the home during the pendency of the divorce, but in equitable distribution, the home is awarded to your spouse as part of the division of the marital estate.

If you or a loved one has any questions about removing a spouse from the marital residence, please contact me directly at mhovey@gmail.com.  Thank you.