If you were divorced, you may be able to seek periodic payments from your former spouse to help support your basic needs, education, etc. The costs of housing, maintaining your lifestyle, and taking care of yourself can be expensive, especially if you were accustomed to having your spouse pay for these expenses. While child support may cover your children’s needs – if you have custody of them – spousal support and alimony pay directly for your expenses and needs. This guide is intended to explain exactly what is meant by “alimony” and by “spousal support” under PA law. The Philadelphia alimony lawyers at Sadek and Cooper explain:
“Alimony” vs. “Spousal Support” in PA
Under Pennsylvania spousal support law, money paid to a former spouse for their care and support is known as “alimony.” This is an older name, stemming from an old 17th Century word for “nourishment” or “subsistence.” Though this may have been obvious in the 17th Century, today, most Pennsylvanians may not understand what alimony actually means. For this reason, people may commonly call alimony “spousal support.” Calling it “spousal support” practically tells you everything you need to know: it is money paid to support a spouse.
This name is also helpful, because spousal support is very similar to child support. Both support systems are usually ordered after a divorce, and usually the same spouse pays both types of support. If one parent worked during the life of the marriage, and brought income to the family, they are often ordered to continue to support the family after divorce. This means that they may be ordered to pay alimony to support their former spouse, and child support to support their shared children.
However, modern alimony may not always stand as an ongoing support system. Many couples have two working spouses, or both parties carry the education and training to support themselves after a divorce. In some situations, alimony may be used to pay one party back for something that already happened. If one spouse paid for the others’ college education, professional school, job training, or other expenses during the marriage, those payments and education may be the only reason that the other spouse doesn’t need ongoing spousal support. Courts may award alimony to the spouse who paid for these costs, ordering the other party to pay their ex back for about half of these expenses. Here, alimony is not “support,” but rather “reimbursement alimony.”
Similarly, alimony may be ordered to make right a wrong that occurred during the marriage. One of the factors courts consider for alimony orders is the fault of either party in causing the divorce. If the divorce was based on abuse or adultery, a court may award the victim alimony payments to make-right that wrong. This is sometimes called “rehabilitative alimony,” and is not truly “support.”
Regardless of the name used, alimony and spousal support are completely equivalent under PA law.
Alimony and Spousal Support in PA
As mentioned, these court-ordered payments are used to support one spouse after marriage. This often means that the wealthier spouse pays the other, but there are situations where reimbursement alimony or rehabilitative alimony may be ordered against the spouse with the lower income if the wealthier spouse took on high debts for the other spouse. However, many of the factors that the court considers are aimed at determining the former spouses’ need for alimony.
If neither spouse needs alimony, courts may refuse to award it. Alternatively, if one spouse merely needs alimony for a limited time to get back on their feet, courts may only award it temporarily. To determine this, courts look at a list of 17 PA alimony factors. In short, these factors boil down to examining:
- Each party’s finances;
- The ability for each party to support themselves;
- The length of the marriage;
- The standard of living the parties are used to;
- How children effect their expenses;
- Each party’s needs; and
- Each party’s fault in causing the divorce.
Many of these factors are weighed by comparing the spouses to each other, not against an objective standard. For instance, if one party has an objectively low income level, they may still be ordered to pay alimony because the other party has no income at all. Similarly, while one spouse may have a high cost of medical care, the other may have similarly high needs to care for their own children from another relationship, creating similar levels of expenses.
Philadelphia Spousal Support and Alimony Lawyer
While a court order is needed to force another party to pay alimony, each party can also agree to alimony decisions. Talk to an attorney about your options for seeking alimony in PA. The Philadelphia family lawyers at the Sadek and Cooper Law Offices may be able to take your case, and help you with your divorce and alimony needs. For a free consultation with our attorneys, call 215-625-0851 today.