Spousal Support and Alimony in Pennsylvania

While many people are familiar with the concept of alimony, alimony is only one of three types of support that can be awarded to a spouse as part of a divorce settlement. Understanding these legal concepts and your full range options as part of a divorce is the first step towards your new life. The family law attorneys of Sadek & Cooper are proud to offer their legal guidance and support to Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians who are facing the prospect of a divorce.

When you work with our legal team, you can expect responsive and personal service. Our lawyers work meticulously and strategically to achieve your goals during a divorce. We can handle alimony or spousal support negotiations and all aspects of a divorce in Pennsylvania. To schedule a free, confidential consultation with our legal team, call Sadek & Cooper at (215) 814-0395  or contact us online.

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What is Alimony in Pennsylvania?

Under the laws of the state of Pennsylvania, alimony is defined as post-divorce periodic payments to a spouse. These payments are ordered or agreed to as part of a settlement agreement and do not commence until the end of the marriage.

In Pennsylvania, no hard guidelines that dictate the exact amount of alimony that should be paid exist. Rather, the Pennsylvania state legislature has set forth in 23 Pa.C.S. 3701(b) 17 subjective factors a court may consider when deciding alimony issues. Some of the factors deemed relevant to an alimony determination include:

  • The relative earnings of the parties.
  • The relative earning capacity of the parties.
  • The age and health of the divorcing parties.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • Contributions to education or training by one party to the other.
  • Assets and liabilities of the parties.
  • The needs of the parties.

These factors are used by a court to determine the amount, if any, of an alimony award. Since they are extremely subjective in nature, strong counsel who can present evidence and argue persuasively on your behalf is essential.

Who Typically Pays Alimony?

People typically want to know whether they will be required to pay alimony following the end of the divorce proceedings. Whether you will be required to pay alimony will turn on how the judge interprets the facts and circumstances of your matter in the context of the 17 subjective factors discussed in the previous paragraph. Since there are few guidelines regarding the exact amount alimony should be in Pennsylvania, it is extremely important to ensure that your strongest arguments and evidence are presented and assessed by the court.

What Is Spousal Support or Alimony Pendente Lite (APL)?

In Pennsylvania, spousal support and alimony pendente light are extremely similar terms. In the state, spousal support and APL are the types of payments made from one spouse to the other before the divorce is final. In other words, they are temporary payments made during the separation period from one spouse to the other.

However, there are some differences between spousal support and APL. To start, APL is only available as a remedy after a divorce proceeding has commenced. By contrast, spousal support is available when a couple is merely separated prior to the commencement of the divorce proceedings. Furthermore, claims for pre-divorce spousal support are subject to more defenses including an entitlement defense based on fault grounds for divorce.

How Much Money Can Spousal Support Provide?

The amount of spousal support a divorcing spouse can request or expect is based on the circumstances and facts of that particular situation. These facts are then applied to a statewide formula used for calculating spousal support. Essentially, spousal support and APL are calculated as 40% of the difference between the payor’s net monthly income and the recipient’s net monthly income. This variation of the formula is applied when there are no dependent children present. If dependent children have been awarded child support payments, then the income differential is reduced by the amount of child support, and the result is multiplied by 30 percent. In practice, spousal support and child support payments are often combined into an unallocated support order.

What is the Difference Between Alimony and Spousal Support in Philadelphia?

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.

Who Typically Pays Alimony?

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.

Work with an Aggressive Philadelphia Divorce Attorney

The family law and divorce lawyers of Sadek & Cooper are proud to offer legal support and guidance during a difficult and trying time in one’s life. Our lawyers are happy to explain legal concepts, how they apply to your divorce, and your legal options. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss alimony, spousal support, and other divorce concerns call our law firm at (215) 814-0395 or contact us online.

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