Equitable distribution versus community property states

When getting a divorce in Pennsylvania, one of the biggest problems couples grapple with is deciding who gets what. Things become even more complicated based on whether or not couples live in an equitable distribution or common law state versus a community property state.

According to FindLaw, most states use common law when deciding what belongs to whom at the end of a marriage. Common law principle dictates that property acquired in a relationship belongs to the person(s) who acquired it, not the joint married couple. Shared property confers half ownership to both parties. Note that Pennsylvania is a community property state.

In contrast, most states out west are community property states. Property acquired by either party in the marriage belongs to the married couple, not the individuals. In the event of a divorce, both parties have a claim to half each of all assets involved. Debts are treated in the same way as assets.

According to Business Insider, not all acquired property becomes jointly owned. Property owned prior to the marriage or that one individual receives as a gift remains their individual property. In the event of a divorce, they may keep this for themselves, provided they did not later add their spouse’s name to a deed, title or other document providing ownership.

Alaska is currently the only state where couples can decide whether or not they prefer equitable distribution or community property. However, any couple can predetermine how they will divide assets in the event of a divorce by using a prenuptial agreement.