If you own a business, or your spouse does, and you plan on divorcing, it is potentially a big issue that must be addressed.

Marital property is usually divided during a divorce. That can be done through an agreement by the spouses or a judge’s order if no agreement is reached. That marital property can include ownership in a business. 

Every divorce and business is unique and how it’s handled in your case can vary depending on your circumstances.   

Karen Ann Ulmer represents clients who are ending their marriages. Her divorce practice can help you whether you, your spouse, or the two of you own a business. Dealing with this issue can be very stressful and emotional, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you have any questions, call us at (215)608-1867.

Issues Outside Divorce Law May Determine What Happens to the Business Ownership

Different agreements can impact the division of business ownership in a divorce:

  • Ownership: If it’s a small business with more than one owner, there should be an agreement between them. It should clearly spell out what happens to the divorcing partner’s share. It could state that their share needs to be sold to the other partner(s) at a given price or the price may be calculated based on the company’s value or some other calculation.
  • Partnership agreements: If there was a partnership agreement in place before the marriage, it may have required that a prenuptial agreement be signed specifically stating how the non-ownership spouse will be compensated (or not) should the marriage end in divorce.  
  • Pre or post-nuptial agreements: Before or during the marriage, a couple may have agreed on financial matters if they get divorced. How business ownership would be handled may be part of that agreement.  

If you and your spouse both own a business, you need to decide if you want one or both of you to sell your interests. If the divorce is amicable and you both feel you can work together, you can both keep your interests and see if you can work it out. However, the details of this arrangement, including what happens should a spouse want to cash out, should be clearly spelled out. It is important to remember that you are divorcing for specific reasons and working together may be very difficult. We recommend giving this a trial run with very detailed scenarios detailed in agreements to protect the business and both spouses in the future.  

How Should the Business Ownership Be Divided?

Marital assets (generally what the couple obtained during their marriage) are supposed to be split equitably or fairly under state statute 23 Pa.C.S. § 3502(a). If one spouse has an ownership interest in a business, it could be split with the other based on the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The age, health, income, vocational skills, employability, estates, liabilities, and needs of each party
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other
  • The opportunity for each party to acquire capital assets and income in the future
  • The income sources of both parties, including insurance or other benefits
  • The contribution or lessening by each party of the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as a homemaker
  • The value of property set apart to each party
  • The parties’ standard of living established during the marriage
  • Each party’s economic circumstances when the property will be divided
  • How taxes and costs impact the property division
  • Whether the party will be the custodian of any dependent minor children

Either through an agreement or court order, it would be decided if the business ownership is marital property to be divided, and if so, by how much and how that would be accomplished.

How Might This Play Out?

A common outcome is the value of the ownership would be determined and the party owning it would pay the other spouse for their share. That payment could be in cash or as part of a larger asset agreement. If the husband owns the business and must pay his wife $100,000 for her share of ownership, he could give up claims to $100,000 worth of other assets (cash, investments, share of the house, vehicles) which would go to the wife to satisfy what’s owed.  

It is also common for this amount to be paid out over time so the business can remain solvent. However, we recommend putting safeguards in place in case the business is sold or starts to encounter financial trouble. Both the paying and receiving spouse need to be protected.  

Get the Help You Need From an Attorney You Can Trust

Whether you, your spouse, or the two of you together own a business and want to learn more about how a divorce may impact you, call our office at (215) 608-1867 or book a consultation online now. We can speak over the phone, via a teleconference, or meet in one of our offices in Doylestown or Langhorne.

There are a number of forms required to be submitted to the court in the course of a divorce where a claim for equitable distribution of marital assets has been raised. An Inventory and Appraisement form has each party identify all the assets and debts at issue in the case. Values or balances at the date of separation should also be disclosed. The form distinguishes between marital assets and assets an individual may be claiming as non-marital. Any assets identified as non-marital should include an explanation as to why they should be categorized as non-marital. For debts, the creditors should be named along with the nature of the debt. Finally, the Inventory asks parties to identify any assets that have been sold or otherwise transferred.

An Income and Expense statement has each party provide detailed information on their present income and ongoing expenses. With respect to income, frequency of payment and taxes or other deductions from gross income should be disclosed. There is a separate form for self-employed individuals whose calculation of income can be less straight-forward. With respect to expenses, parties should identify if it is a monthly, quarterly, or annual expense. Additionally, parties can mark whether the expense is an individual one versus an expense incurred for their children and/or spouse. Both of these forms help in demonstrating standard of living established during the marriage and financial circumstances of the parties as they separate to assist the court in making support and/or equitable distribution awards.

Once you have identified your marital property, the next step is reaching an equitable distribution. Equitable distribution in Pennsylvania is not an automatic 50/50 split. Instead, there are thirteen (13) factors to be considered by the court in determining the appropriate division of a marital property. A few of the factors include the length of the marriage, sources of income and needs of each of the parties, value of property set apart to each party, standard of living established during the marriage, economic circumstances of each party as time division of property is to become effective, and whether either party will be serving as custodian for dependent minor children.

In a divorce involving equitable distribution, the parties are tasked with identifying all the property to be considered. Each party is to file an inventory of assets. The Inventory should list all marital assets and debts at issue, its value or balance, anything that has been transferred, and anything a party asserts is non-marital in nature. An Inventory must be filed prior to requesting a hearing on equitable distribution. You can supplement the list of marital property if you do not have knowledge of all the assets and debts at the outset. A pre-hearing statement must also be filed if a party is seeking a hearing to address equitable distribution. Similar to the Inventory, you will list all marital assets and debts. You will include as exhibits the statements or documents for each item confirming their value or balance. It is important to work with an experienced family law attorney when dealing with equitable distribution matters to ensure all marital property is identified, valued and submitted to the court in a timely fashion.  By April M. Townsend

Investment accounts that are opened or funded during the marriage will be considered marital property and up for division in the context of a divorce. Investment accounts present an additional consideration when it comes to division due to fluctuating value based on the market. The balance in these accounts is subject to various gains and losses on a daily basis. It will be important to establish a clear date and time for valuation purposes. With other assets, the cut-off date for valuation is usually the date of separation. With investment accounts however, you must also account for gains and losses from date of separation through the date of distribution as they are also considered marital. This can result in a significant sum for an account with a large balance or if there is a lengthy period of time between separation and distribution. Failure to address the market experience can result in an unfair distribution.

It is good practice to work with an experienced family law attorney who is familiar with division of investment accounts to ensure you are getting an equitable distribution of these types of assets. It may be appropriate to divide the accounts based on shares instead of value. To the extent the account holds retirement assets, you will also need to be clear on any withdrawal penalties in addition to tax consequences. To the extent a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is necessary, your attorney can draft/review an Order with the appropriate language to effectuate the desired distribution. A QDRO is a document that identifies the plan to be divided and gives specific details as to how that division will take place and what rights the party receiving the funds, referred to as the alternate payee, will have going forward.

Retirement benefits are one of the assets that may be up for division in a divorce action. If you or your spouse was a railroad employee, there are a few things to keep in mind with respect to equitable distribution of a railroad retirement benefit. First, railroad retirement is comprised of two components: Tier I and Tier II. Tier I s comparable to a social security benefit. This benefit is not divisible as part of a divorce. Tier II is more akin to a traditional pension. The Tier II portion of the benefit is subject to division with proper court order.  Some companies may also offer supplemental pension benefits. All non-Tier I benefits can be divided in a divorce.

As indicated above, to divide non-Tier I benefits, an appropriate court order is required. The order needs to be specific about the request for division of benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act and include a fixed dollar amount or percentage as to the amount to be paid directly to the former spouse. It is important to work with an expert to ensure the court order concerning division of the retirement benefits meets all requirements established by the Railroad Retirement Board. In addition to division of non-Tier I benefits, former spouses might also be eligible for a separate annuity from the Railroad Retirement Board. Receipt of this separate annuity does not impact the amount of any annuity due to the employee. There are a list of requirements that must be met in order to qualify for the separate former spouse annuity.

When couples begin the divorce process, all assets and liabilities need to be listed and valued in order to determine division between the spouses. Negotiation often involves one spouse being given certain assets in exchange for other assets of the same value – and greater need or emotional attachment are values along with cost that can be weighed in the negotiation process.

If a couple can settle out of court with the help of qualified divorce lawyers to ensure a fair and satisfying distribution between both parties, the couple maintains control over their own assets and their own preferences. However, if they cannot come to an agreement, the divorce must go to court and the division of assets is put into the hands of a judge.

Pennsylvania is an Equitable Distribution state, which means the judge does not necessarily divide property 50/50 but rather in a manner that seems fair. Therefore, when determining who gets what, including the vehicles, the judge will consider many factors.

Was the car owned and paid for completely before marriage by one spouse? It is almost assured that the owner will be awarded the car. Was the car purchased after marriage, but it’s in one spouse’s name and that spouse’s money was used to pay for the car or the loans? Chances are very likely that this spouse will receive the car, although other factors could come into play.

Who has greater need for the car? If there is only one car, who needs it to commute to work because there are no public transportation options available? If there are multiple cars, who needs the van to take the kids to school, or who needs the newer car for a long and difficult commute? All these individual factors weigh into the judge’s decision.

The car’s value is also taken into consideration. If the family has two vehicles and one is worth significantly more than the other, the judge will likely award the cars based on need, circumstances, and payment history, but may also award additional compensation to the spouse receiving the car with less value in order to balance the asset division.

If a car is awarded to you in a divorce settlement, be sure to change the title and owner immediately to yourself. If a balance is owed on a loan, the loan should be restructured or refinanced to have only your name on it.

Your divorce attorney will walk you through the many intricacies and details involved in the divorce process and starting over. Reach out to us here at Ulmer Law to see how we can help you.

In Pennsylvania, if a divorcing couple cannot come to an agreement outside of court, all marital assets will be divided according to equitable distribution, which means, effectively, whatever the court thinks is appropriate after considering a number of factors. As long as both parties are reasonable, we encourage divorcing couples to avoid court so they can retain control of the division of their marital assets.

This is true for all assets, including vacation property. Even if the property was given to one spouse exclusively or purchased exclusively with one spouse’s income, and no family money was ever used to pay for its mortgage or upkeep, such property may be considered marital and will factor into the division of assets. Whether your divorce goes to court or not, you will probably have to decide what is to become of your vacation property.

Appraise the asset

Before you decide what to do with the property, you need to get an accurate appraisal of its market value. Also important is a complete listing of all costs associated with owning and maintaining the property: mortgage, interest, taxes, utilities, repairs, landscaping, and more.

With this clear, factual foundation, you can begin to evaluate the course of action that will best benefit the two of you and any children you have.

Decide your best option

Selling the property might be the easiest choice, allowing you to divide the funds received between you. It can be emotionally difficult to let go of a place where you may have created fond memories, but consider your need for liquid assets and the simplification of the process, which are important advantages to this option.

If you and your spouse are on reasonably good terms, you could choose to keep the property and divide its use. This is advantageous if children are involved, since they would still have the familiar vacation home to go to, providing them with much-needed security and continuity. But be sure to create a written document, signed by both of you, that will clearly delineate the times and seasons each will be using the home, the expenses each of you will be responsible for paying, and the dates those payments must be made. Your lawyer will be able to create a comprehensive document that will ensure that you both get good use out of the house without increasing tension.

You may also decide that one partner gets the family home and the other gets the vacation home. The complication here is in the valuation of each residence. If one house is worth significantly less, the spouse with the less expensive house can negotiate additional assets or benefits in order to balance the value of the two properties. However, if that house also has much lower expenses, the spouse with the more expensive home should insist that this benefit be factored into the negotiations.

 What about timeshares?

Treat a timeshare in the same manner you would treat a vacation home or vacation yacht or any other additional asset. First, get it appraised so you know what it is worth. Then, negotiate.

Get help

A seasoned divorce attorney can help you through all the nuanced legal and financial issues involved in divorce because we have helped many people through the process. Contact us here at Ulmer Law to see how we can help you, too.

When most people think of property, they think only of assets, but debts are also considered property for the purpose of a divorce settlement. In order to divide assets and debts between the spouses, a thorough listing and determination of status is needed. That status can be marital, non-marital, or a combination of the two.

If the couple cannot decide on the division of property, a judge will do so. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are Equitable Distribution states, which means the judge divides the marital property based on what he or she considers fair. The criteria can include earnings of each spouse, length of marriage, health of the spouses, and minor children.

Marital Property – Marital property will be the bulk of your property. A partial list includes:

 

  • Assets acquired or debts incurred during the marriage
  • Gifts from one spouse to the other
  • Benefits from retirement accounts, pension, insurance plans, etc.
  • Benefits from reward programs, such as frequent flyers, etc.
  • Electronic online storage or entertainment (iCloud, iTunes, Netflix, etc.)

A recent blog provides a list of shared accounts to include when listing your assets.

Non-Marital Property – The list of possible non-marital property is short. It includes:

 

  • Assets acquired or debts incurred prior to the marriage
  • Inheritance
  • Gifts received from someone other than the spouse
  • Assets (or liabilities) with a written agreement clearly stating the property is non-marital

When Non-Marital Can Also Be Marital Property

Things are not always as they seem, and just because a spouse had property before marriage doesn’t mean it will remain entirely non-marital property. Here are just a few possible scenarios for each of the types of non-marital property:

 

  • Asset: If one spouse owned the house or a business before marriage, but both spouses worked to pay off the mortgage or grow the business, a portion of the value of the house or business would be considered marital property.
  • Debt: If one spouse incurred student loans before marriage, but the education led to a lucrative job that benefited both spouses, a portion of the debt could be considered marital property.
  • Inheritance or gift: If an inheritance or gift was used to upgrade the family home or purchase property that would generate income for the family, the clear intention was to treat the inheritance as a marital asset.

How to Protect Non-Marital Property

If you want to protect your non-marital property, you can arrange a prenuptial agreement. Such agreements can also be drawn up after marriage, designating specific assets or liabilities that both parties wish to be considered non-marital. These agreements can be challenged if subsequent use of the property suggests marital use, as described above, but the challenging party would have to provide a very strong case to overturn a written agreement.

Division of marital property is best resolved with a professional who is experienced in helping couples come to equitable and amicable agreements. Such an agreement will avoid giving a judge the power to decide for you.

If your spouse has a retirement plan or pension and you are entitled to share in the distributions, you absolutely need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). In fact, a plan’s administrator is not permitted to distribute funds to anyone but the participant without a QDRO.

A Domestic Relations Order (DRO) is an order or judgment issued by a court directing or approving the distribution of all or part of a participant’s retirement plan to another payee. This payee can be an ex-spouse or a dependent. According to the IRS, an adult payee would also be required to cover part of the cost of the plan, while a minor would not. (The calculation is here.)

An order is considered “qualified” only after it has been approved by the plan’s administrator–i.e., it fulfills the particular plan’s criteria and procedures. A DRO judgment is generally submitted directly to the plan to be officially qualified. Distributions to the payee are made tax-free and penalty-free, even if the participant is below the age of distribution, so that the participant is not disadvantaged by the roll-over or distribution.

The language of a QDRO is very specific, so it’s best to work with an experienced lawyer and/or actuary to draw it up. The need for a QDRO can be avoided, even if your spouse (or you) have retirement or pension plans, through the negotiation process. Some other asset or assets can be accepted by a spouse in exchange for any portion of the retirement account, for instance, maintaining full ownership of the family home rather than selling and splitting the profit. If you can come to an out-of-court property settlement that stipulates how much, if any, of the pension or retirement account will be split, you can avoid the judge dividing your retirement accounts for you, as he or she sees fit. If at all possible, come to an equitable agreement before the end of the divorce process in order to retain a degree of control.

The QDRO process can take time, so don’t wait. Ideally, it should be completed in time to submit along with the rest of the divorce settlement. If you begin the process late, or even after the divorce, and your spouse remarries or dies, you may not get any benefits.

Government and military pensions follow different laws and are not covered by the QDRO laws. They are more difficult to split than plans from private employers, in which case, it is even more imperative to get the help of a divorce law expert.


Certain accounts that may be considered marital property and up for division in the context of a divorce can have fluctuating value based on the market. For example, mutual funds, stock benefits, 401ks, and annuities will reflect gains and losses that can change daily. Similar to other assets, the cut-off date for value purposes is technically the date of separation however gains and losses on that date of separation value through the date of distribution are also considered marital. This can result in a significant sum for an account with a large balance or in the instance of a lengthy separation period.

It is good practice to work with an experienced family law attorney and/or retirement division attorney or actuary to ensure you are getting an equitable distribution of these types of assets. To the extent a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is necessary, your attorney can draft/review an Order with the appropriate language to effectuate the desired distribution. A QDRO is a document that identifies the plan to be divided and gives specific details as to how that division will take place and what rights the party receiving the funds, referred to as the alternate payee, will have going forward. Failure to address the market experience can result in an unfair distribution.