If you are seeking a divorce because you are a victim of domestic violence you may be wondering if your spouse’s actions will have any bearing on the distribution of marital property. It may only seem fair, since you’ve suffered at your spouse’s hands.
But Title 23, the section of Pennsylvania law governing marriages and divorces, currently prohibits using domestic violence as a direct factor when considering the distribution of marital property. It reads as follows:
“The court shall equitably divide, distribute, or assign in kind or otherwise, the marital property between parties without regard to marital misconduct in such percentages and in such manner as the court deems just after considering all relevant factors.”
It may seem strange to call domestic violence mere “misconduct,” but the statute does apply. In some cases, domestic abuse may as well have never happened, at least as far as the division of property goes.
This does not mean there are not indirect impacts. For example, one of the factors a judge must consider is “the opportunity of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income.”
Taking into consideration that many abuse victims struggle to find or keep jobs during and after the abuse, one could make the argument the abused spouse’s opportunity for future acquisitions has been greatly diminished from what it otherwise might have been. Thus, a judge might award a greater share of the marital property to the abused spouse in order to even out the effects of this reduced capacity.
Judges in Philadelphia must also consider “the contribution or dissipation of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation of the marital property.” Considering economic abuse can be a very real feature of domestic violence, there may well be an argument, in some cases, that the abusing spouse has depreciated the marital property through his or her actions.
There’s also the impact Protection from Abuse Orders could have. Temporary orders often become permanent orders, and PFAs often bar the abusive spouse from the marital home. While this does not guarantee the abused spouse will get to keep the home either, it could certainly impact everything else the judge must take into consideration.
All these scenarios demonstrate why it is a bad idea to try to represent yourself pro se in a divorce case. No case is ever straightforward as it appears, and there are rarely any easy answers.
The best way to position yourself for a good outcome would be to schedule your free consultation with one of our attorneys today.