Pennsylvania was historically a title based state, regardless of marital property status. As such, if property was named under one spouse, it belonged to that spouse only. The fact that it was during the marital relationship was irrelevant. All of that changed in 1980 when the state of Pennsylvania adopted the system of equitable distribution of marital property. Such remains the law today with a few changes. Title in equitable distribution is no longer relevant. If the property was acquired during the marital relationship, the property was marital without regard to which spouse held the title, or bought the property for that matter. Equitable distribution is not the same as a community property system adopted by some states such as California. In a community property state, property acquired during marriage is divided equally. In contrast, in equitable distribution, the court considers a number of factors in deciding how property should be divided between spouses. Two factors are particularly important and they include the length of the marriage and the earning potential or disparity between the spouses. The longer the marriage, the more these issues come into play. Other factors include age and health of a spouse and each spouse ability to provide for her/himself.
In Pennsylvania, only marital property will be subject to equitable distribution. Marital Property is all property acquired or earned during marriage. Non marital property is property owned by a spouse before marriage or acquired after the date of separation. Since the 1980 amendments, the court may presume that any property acquired during marriage is marital, regardless of title. If a spouse wishes to keep an asset out of equitable distribution, then he/she will have to prove to the court the separate character of it and why it should be regarded as non-marital property. Even a debt is subject to equitable distribution. However, a judge will usually examine the debt in order to characterize it as marital or nonmarital based on when it was acquired, who acquired it and how it was used.