Marital Property vs Separate Property - What's the Difference?

When dividing property in a divorce in PA, both assets and debts must be determined to be either marital or non-marital in nature. Non-marital, or separate, property or debts are not divided between spouses. But it is not always completely clear which category something falls into. 

Pennsylvania is an equitable liability state, which means if your divorce goes to court, a judge will decide who gets what, and how much. You will need to make a complete list of your property and your debts, then discuss with your attorney the history and usage of each in order to determine its status as separate or joint property. 

Marital or non-marital

The simplest definition of marital property is the assets and debts that have been used by both spouses or for the benefit of the family. Some examples include:

  • Family homes, vehicles, vacation homes, timeshares, furniture
  • Any other assets and debts acquired during the marriage that were used by the family or to benefit the family
  • Retirement accounts, insurance, pensions, etc.
  • Gifts one spouse gives to the other
  • Digital shared accounts, such as entertainment (iTunes, Netflix, ebooks on Kindle), family email and social media accounts, virtual property, medical portals, and school portals for minors
  • Financial accounts, investments, taxes, and credit cards that are in both names. Money in an account that is only under one name does not necessarily belong only to that person if the money was used for the family 

Non-marital or separate property may include:

  • Property or debts acquired before marriage and that have not been used by the family nor has the family benefited
  • Inheritance that has not been used by the family or comingled with family finances
  • Gifts received by a spouse given by someone other than the spouse
  • Assets or liabilities that have a written agreement specifically stating they are not marital property 

The gray areas

The definition of non-marital is somewhat subjective, which is why you will need a good divorce attorney to help you with your case. If you incurred educational debt before marriage, but the family has benefited from your education, any remaining balance becomes marital debt and your ex will share in that debt. 

If you received an inheritance or a gift before you were married, but you subsequently used some of the inheritance or gift for the family, it becomes marital property. If, for instance, you were given a house and your spouse helped you in the repairs of the house, or your spouse's income was used in part to pay for upkeep, or if it became a family vacation home, it has become marital property. 

If you started a business before you were married, but your spouse supported you as you built up the business or worked at the business with you, it has become marital property. 

Proving non-marital or separate property can be a challenge. If you have not kept assets acquired outside the marriage in a separate account in your own name or avoided using any for the family's needs, these assets will likely be considered marital. This is not always true with debt if you can prove that the one who incurred the debt did so to benefit himself or herself. For instance, if your spouse goes on spending sprees to buy personal items or wracks up gambling debts, we can help you prove that the debt belongs solely to your spouse. 

In the case of assets that you acquired before marriage or were gifted, we will work with you, asking the right questions and delving into usage to limit the division of your property and help you keep as much of your assets as possible.

At the Law Offices of Blitshtein and Weiss, P.C., we're experts in the field of family law, divorce, and the division of property. Call us today in our Southampton office at (215) 364-4900 to see how we can help you receive the best and fairest division of assets in your divorce.