Between 40% and 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce. But divorce entails more than going your separate ways. 

Divorce is one of the most stressful things a person can experience. There are so many issues involved, especially if your marriage lasted for many years. 

Do you have young kids? Does one of you stay at home? If so, will there be alimony?

What about child support? 

Between 401ks, pensions, and retirement plans, how are assets divided in a divorce?

Read on for more information about dividing assets in the midst of a divorce.

Divorce in Pennsylvania

If you’re headed for a divorce in Pennsylvania, there are a few things you should know:


You’re only eligible for divorce in Pennsylvania if one of the spouses has lived there for six months or longer. File in the county where you live. 

No-Fault Divorce

No-Fault divorce is exactly how it sounds. You both agree that neither spouse is at fault for the death of the marriage. You both take responsibility. 

Fault Divorce

In a fault divorce, one spouse alleges the other spouse is at fault for the marriage falling apart. 

Some grounds for a fault divorce include adultery, bigamy, and cruelty. 

Across State Lines

Laws of every kind vary across state lines, but there is something all states have in common. If you or your spouse earned a pension or 401k during your marriage, it’s a joint asset. 

What does that mean? Joint assets can be divided during your divorce. That doesn’t mean they’re automatically divided, though. 

Pay close attention to your joint assets. Ask your lawyer about the procedure for dividing assets in your state. 

How Are Assets Divided in a Divorce?

Any assets you bring into the marriage remain yours. Any inheritance that comes to you also remains yours. 

If your spouse earned a large part of his retirement benefit before marriage, he’ll keep that part. The rest is equitably divided. 

Equitable Versus Equal

Most states use the term “equitable” when dividing assets. Don’t confuse equitable with equal

The terms are alike but mean two different things. An equal division of assets means dividing everything up 50/50, with each spouse getting half. 

Equitable is more nuanced and is a legal term. It means other factors come into play when deciding the division of assets.

Employability, degree of education, age, and health are some of the elements that factor into the equitable equation. 

If a woman forgoes a career and stays at home with the kids, that gets factored into the division of assets. 

If a spouse is abusive or unfaithful, that can also be taken into account. 

The goal is dividing the assets in a way that is fair to both parties. If both parties are unhappy with the outcome, it’s probably fair! 

The House

The house is often the largest asset a couple owns together. Many factors come into play when dividing the house. Equitable versus equal plays a big role in the decision. 

Some spouses want to keep the house to avoid disrupting the lives of young children. Others have an emotional attachment. If the spouses can’t agree on dividing the house, a mediator or judge makes the decision. 

Often it’s a good idea to sell the house and split the profit so everyone can make a fresh start. 

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)

You can’t get any part of your ex-spouse’s pension or other retirement assets without a QDRO (pronounced qua-drow). This is a special court order.

File for divorce, and then gather all the information possible about your spouse’s retirement benefits.

As a spouse, the law says you have the right to this information. Sometimes you’ll need a letter from your lawyer in order for the plan to give it to you, though. 

Send a letter to your spouse’s pension plan administrator advising that you’re going through a divorce. This prevents them from paying out any part of the pension before your divorce is final. 

Once you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce, the court orders a QDRO. The document isn’t “qualified” until the pension plan administrator approves it.

Many pension plan administrators provide generic QDRO forms, but using a specialized QDRO lawyer to complete the paperwork is a good idea. This protects your rights and ensures you get everything that is legally yours.

Be proactive and get your paperwork to the plan administrator in a timely fashion. It’s possible for you to lose your part of the pension if you don’t stay on top of the paperwork. 

What’s in the QDRO?

The QDRO contains information about when and how much money gets paid to you. The QDRO can’t violate the terms of the pension plan. If the pension plan doesn’t allow lump-sum payments, then you won’t be getting one. 

Complete the QDRO before signing the final divorce papers. If you settle the divorce without the QDRO, you’ll spend more time and money obtaining a QDRO. You’ll also put your claim to part of the pension at risk. 

Oftentimes, a spouse offers tradeoffs to keep the whole pension. Be aware that the long-term value of a pension is often high.

Keeping the whole house might seem like a good tradeoff, but it often isn’t. If you’re unsure about the value of your different assets, get a trusted third party to help you figure it out. 

It’s a good idea to pay a third-party professional financial adviser to help with this part of the asset division. 

Dividing Assets During a Divorce

If you’ve ever wondered, “How are assets divided in a divorce?”, now you know! Divorce is never easy. And dividing the marital assets is a painful, emotional part of most divorces. 

Whenever possible, take the emotion out and let fairness and logic guide you. Giving in to anger makes things much worse. 

Divorce should be the last resort but sometimes it’s necessary. Choosing a good divorce attorney can help make the process smoother. 

If you’re in need of a caring divorce attorney, please feel free to contact us here