Alimony and spousal support are some of the most often-misunderstood aspects of a divorce. Contrary to popular belief, most divorces do not result in one spouse punitively paying a portion of their income to the other for the rest of their lives. Support in the form of alimony and spousal support is intended to help each party maintain financial stability during a separation and become financially independent after that.
Pennsylvania’s Three Types of Spousal Support and Alimony
Pennsylvania law allows three distinct types of financial support to achieve this goal.
- Spousal support: Spousal support is paid to a financially dependent spouse while the parties are physically separated but before they file for divorce or while a divorce is pending. The amount of support to be paid to the dependent spouse is determined based upon statutory guidelines . These guidelines include a mathematical formula to determine the proper amount of spousal support based on the disparity between the parties’ incomes. Another factor that is considered is whether child support is also being paid. In addition, the spousal support calculation can be adjusted based upon who is paying the mortgage on the marital residence and who is providing health insurance.
It is important to note that there may be defenses that would prevent the financially dependent spouse from receiving spousal support. These defenses are complicated and require an experienced lawyer to present to the court and to defend if your entitlement to spousal support is being questioned.
- Alimony pendente lite (APL): If a divorce is pending, a financially dependent spouse can also file for APL. The court makes this award so the parties are on a financially level playing field during the proceedings and have the means and resources to move their case forward. Similar to spousal support, APL amounts are based upon statutory guidelines. These guidelines are identical for both spousal support and APL calculations. Also, like spousal support, APL amounts can be adjusted based upon whether child support is also awarded, who is paying the mortgage on a marital residence, and who provides health insurance.
There are two primary differences between spousal support and APL. First is the purpose for which each is awarded. This purpose, however, does not change how the amount of support is determined.
- The other difference between spousal support and APL can be important. Unlike spousal support, there are limited defenses that can prevent the financially dependent spouse from receiving support. The Pennsylvania legislature has only recently amended the laws surrounding APL to allow for a defense to its payment. It is essential that your support attorney know and understand these statutory changes in order to effectively litigate your support matter. Alimony: Alimony is only paid after the Court issues the divorce decree. Pennsylvania has a statutory set of criteria to help the court evaluate whether one spouse should be awarded alimony following the divorce decree and, if so, how much and for how long. Unlike spousal support or APL, there are no statutory guidelines to indicate an appropriate dollar amount or how long it will be awarded. The intention of alimony is usually not to punish the paying party; instead, it is generally intended to help an economically disadvantaged spouse regain their financial independence.
Alimony Is Awarded at the Court’s Discretion
Spousal support and alimony are separate from child support payments, , but payment of child support can impact how much alimony is awarded. Alimony may be ordered upon the parties’ agreement or by the court considering the facts of the case. The courts use a list describing seventeen criteria to determine whether alimony is appropriate, along with guidance from relevant case law. These criteria include (but are not limited to):
- Each spouse’s earning capacity, sources of income, property, and inheritances.
- Each spouse’s age and physical, mental, and emotional condition.
- How long the marriage lasted.
- Whether one spouse contributed to the other’s education, training, or increased earning power either financially or by being a homemaker or stay-at-home parent.
- Whether earning capacity is decreased for a custodial parent.
- The assets and liabilities of both spouses, both before the marriage and currently.
- Marital misconduct (during the marriage and before separation).
Pennsylvania is considered a “no-fault” state, so neither party needs to prove the other is to blame for the end of the marriage. The court does not consider the fault of either party when determining how to divide the marital assets equitably. However, marital misconduct may impact the court’s decision about awarding alimony.
How Long Does Alimony Last in Pennsylvania?
Whether you are receiving spousal support or alimony pendente lite, both end when the judge enters an order finalizing the divorce.
Alimony, however, is tailored to the facts of each case. Sometimes, a judge may order one or more lump-sum payments from one spouse to the other at the case’s resolution. A court may order support to last until the dependent spouse completes a training program or degree that would enable them to obtain sustainable employment, until the parties’ minor children can attend school out of the home, or some other benchmark. In other cases, the court may order that a spouse pay alimony for a set period (five years, for example).
If the judge doesn’t order a specific end date or criteria, which is not usually the case, alimony payments automatically end when either spouse dies, or the supported spouse remarries or cohabitates with someone else. If circumstances change, the parties may also petition the court to end the payments.
Pennsylvania Spousal Support and Alimony Lawyers
At Bentley, , Kopecki, Smith, P.C., our family law attorneys help clients protect their financial futures and develop financial support orders that work for their families as their situations change.
Pennsylvania, like many other states, has changed statutory spousal support and spousal support modification procedures in the past few years. There have been significant changes to the tax consequences of both paying and receiving alimony. Our attorneys are knowledgeable about these changes and how they affect our clients. Our team can help you develop a spousal support and alimony order that makes sense for you and your circumstances.
Our family law attorneys will analyze your situation to determine the best available options for you. Our alimony and spousal support lawyers are ready to answer your questions and help you move forward from our offices in Wyomissing, , Lancaster, and Lebanon. Contact us today for a free initial consultation. Call 610-624-2855.