Divorce Laws of Pennsylvania With a Prior Home Ownership

By Kelly Mroz

Man standing in front of a house

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An equitable distribution state, Pennsylvania requires that courts divide marital property in a way that is fair and equitable. Homes are subject to the same rules as other assets. When considering a house owned prior to the marriage, the first question is whether it is marital property shared by the couple, non-marital property, or some combination of the two. If there is any marital value in the house, there is still the question of how much value is distributed to each spouse. The court makes this determination based on several factors, including the length of the marriage and how much each spouse earns, in order to reach a fair economic resolution.

The Pennsylvania Divorce Code categorizes assets, such as houses, as marital or non-marital. If an asset is marital, the court can divide it between the spouses in the divorce based on consideration of a list of factors. Assets you accumulated during the marriage are considered marital unless you can show otherwise. A non-marital asset is not divided in the divorce; it stays with the original owner. The law provides a list of ways an asset can be considered non-marital. Ownership of an asset, such as a home, before marriage is one example. However, there are exceptions to the general rule.


A non-marital asset can lose all or some of its non-marital character during the marriage. If you transfer title of a house into joint names during the marriage, you turn it into a marital asset, even though you owned it prior to marriage. This is called transmutation. In this situation, the court can still consider and give you some kind of credit for what you contributed to the marital estate from your premarital assets.

Increase in Value

Even when you own a home prior to marriage and keep it titled in your name, any increase in value during the marriage is marital property under Pennsylvania divorce law. The increase can be due to any number of reasons--real estate prices in the area went up, the mortgage was paid down during the marriage or the home was well maintained or improved. All such increases in value during the marriage are marital property. The court can consider the contributions of each party to the increase in value, so if one spouse remodeled the other spouse's premarital house with her bare hands, she might be entitled to a larger share of the increase in value than she otherwise would receive.

Division of Marital Property

If some portion of the premarital home is determined to be marital property, the court weighs a number of factors when deciding how much of that marital value goes to each spouse. The court has the power to distribute a marital asset to one spouse. So, if the house is marital, the judge can pick who gets it. The court can require that one spouse buy out the interest of the other with cash. Giving the spouse other marital assets to balance out the distribution is another option. One spouse might get to keep a little more of her retirement to balance out the marital value in the home that the other is keeping. The court is not allowed to consider who is at fault for the breakup of the marriage when deciding equitable distribution.