The 17 Alimony Factors in Pennsylvania
“Alimony” is the name of the money that one spouse pays another after divorce to help support them. In many marriages, one spouse relies on the other for income, and the other takes care of the home or children. In other marriages, both spouses work. These kinds of differences help a court decide whether alimony is necessary. Plus, these factors show how much alimony to order, and for how long. In any Pennsylvania divorce, the judge will look at 17 different factors to decide how much alimony is necessary. The experienced family law attorneys of Sadek and Cooper explain these 17 factors:
Pennsylvania Alimony Factors
When you request alimony or ask a court to reduce alimony payments, they will look at 17 different factors. Not every factor is relevant in every case, but some factors can have huge impacts when they do apply.
You should also know that to get alimony changed, there must be a “material and substantial change in circumstances,” according to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.19. That means that big changes to any of these factors can support a change to your alimony order.
These factors come from Pa.C.S. § 3701(b), and are used by every court in the Commonwealth to decide alimony:
- Relative Earning Capacity – The potential money each party can earn is one of the biggest factors in whether or not one spouse needs to support the other. If one party can make far more money than the other can, they might be required to share some of that wealth like they did when they were married.
- Age and Health – Young, able-bodied people can usually take care of themselves. The court looks at not only physical health, but also mental and emotional health. This means that a spouse with psychiatric or mental/emotional disorders might need more care. The same goes for handicapped, sick, or elderly spouses.
- Income – Courts look at the amount and sources of income for each party. If one party receives income through social security or medical benefits, rather than income, they might not be as able to take care of themselves. Additionally, employment benefits like health insurance count as part of income for this analysis.
- Inheritances – The amount of inheritance each party expects to get, along with any other money they might come into, can be a big factor. Most people may inherit from their parents or grandparents, and that may not be a lot of money. Other people have very wealthy relatives or may receive trust fund payments. It would be unfair for a court to order the other spouse to take care of someone who inherits a lot of money.
- Length of the Marriage – Spouses become more set in their roles in longer marriages. People who have not been married for long may be able to return to their independent living styles and support themselves, as they may have done before marriage. For those who have spent most of their adult life supported by their spouse’s income, there is less expectation for them to change suddenly.
- Education Contribution – The court may look to the contributions one spouse made toward the other’s education and training during the marriage. Anything one party did to help the other learn to make money on their own may reduce what they need to pay in alimony. If the party received money to pay for training and experience, the court will expect that they can earn more money on their own.
- Minor Children – Kids are expensive and time-consuming, and courts understand this. Divorced couples may not equally share custody, or might have children from outside the marriage. The time and expense that goes toward raising children takes away from the time and money parents have to support themselves. Full-time parents are not always expected to be full-time employees, and may get higher spousal support payments.
- Standard of Living – Courts consider the standard of living the spouses have become accustomed to during their marriage. It would be unfair for a spouse who relies upon the other’s income to face the choice of staying in a bad marriage, or losing their lifestyle by getting divorced. Courts try to correct this with alimony payments that allow parties to keep their lifestyle after divorce.
- Relative Education and Employment Opportunities – The courts look at each side’s education and job opportunities to see whose situation is better. If the party seeking alimony needs some time to find a job, go to school, or get job training, the court may award alimony to support them during that search. If both parties are equally able to find work, the court may not make one support the other.
- Assets and Liabilities – The amount of money and property each party has helps a court make alimony decisions. For instance, if the party seeking alimony has their own house, the party paying alimony does not need to pay their rent or a mortgage. The same goes for liabilities, or debts, each party has. If one party has high student loans, but no income, the other party might be required to help pay for their loans.
- Property Before Marriage – During a divorce, each party usually keeps any property they owned before the marriage. A spouse who was independently wealthy before marriage may be able to return to that wealth, but a spouse with no assets is not expected to return to having nothing.
- Contributions as Homemaker – Taking care of the house and children is itself a job. This kind of contribution to the household is often rewarded with alimony.
- Needs of the Parties – Things like utilities, food, shelter, medical care, and any other needs may help a court decide how much, exactly, one party needs for support.
- Marital Misconduct – In divorces based on fault, the misconduct can play into a court’s alimony decision. Spouses who cheated or abused their spouse may pay higher alimony. This only includes bad conduct that happened during the marriage – nothing counts after the date of divorce.
- Tax Effects – Alimony payments count as taxable income to the recipient, and count as a tax deduction for the party paying alimony. These kinds of tax effects play into the court’s alimony decisions.
- Property to Support Oneself – If one party does not have enough property to support themselves, courts typically order alimony payments. This analysis includes looking at the property they receive in the divorce.
- Employment to Support Oneself – If one party is not employed, and cannot support themselves, the courts typically order alimony. This may include houses or things that can be sold for cash.
How to Get Alimony Reduced or Increased
As mentioned above, any “material and substantial change in circumstances” can be grounds for a change to alimony. The parties can also agree to change or eliminate alimony, so hiring lawyers to sit down and work out a new agreement may be the easiest option. If not, your lawyer can file for a modification to alimony based on any, all, or some of the above factors.
The following are good examples of the kinds of things that convince courts to change alimony orders:
- Either party gets a new job
- Either party loses their job
- Either party has another child
- Either party inherits money, wins the lottery, or gets a large gift of money
- Either party remarries
- Either party becomes sick, injured, or handicapped – or recovers from sickness or injury
- Either party graduates college or other school
- Either party is convicted of a crime
- Either party is found liable in a lawsuit
- Either party goes bankrupt
Virtually any big life change may effect one of these 17 factors in a way that will get a court to rethink their alimony order.
Some changes may be big, but are not “material and substantial.” This may include things like switching to another job that pays the same or moving to a new apartment with similar rent. Though these may be big life changes, they are not “material” because they do not really alter any of these factors.
If you want to change alimony, it is vital that you follow all court orders until alimony changes are finalized. Do not resort to self-help. Just because you want to change alimony does not mean that a court will agree to the changes. If you stop paying alimony on your own, you could be held in contempt for violating the court order to pay. Always talk to an attorney when you want to change alimony to make sure you have good cause, and to make sure that your attorney can get the court to change the order.
Philly Area Divorce Attorneys Help You Change Your Alimony
If you are trying to get alimony, or want your alimony increased or decreased, talk to an experienced family lawyer. The lawyers of Sadek and Cooper represent clients in the greater Philadelphia area, including Philadelphia, Bucks County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and beyond. With offices in Center City, The Northeast, Delaware County, and Bucks County, we can meet wherever is convenient for you.
For a free consultation on your alimony case, call us at 215-814-0395 today.