When a marriage ends in divorce, it is common for one spouse to seek spousal support and alimony which means one spouse must pay alimony to the other spouse during and after the divorce. Due to the adversarial nature of litigation and divorce, alimony payments and financial support for ex-spouses is often a hotly contested issue. Understanding what qualifies a spouse for alimony in Pennsylvania can be difficult which is why consulting with a family law attorney is important.
At Schwartz, Fox, & Saltzman, our experienced Philadelphia divorce lawyers have been successfully litigating alimony and spousal support issues for over 40 years.
This article provides an overview of how the issues of spousal support and alimony are addressed in Pennsylvania including what qualifies a spouse for them.
Qualifying for Alimony or Spousal Support in Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania law (§4321(1)), spouses are required to support each other based on their “respective abilities to provide support”. Stated more clearly, a person who is financially dependent on their spouse can obtain pre-divorce spousal support if their income is lower than their spouse’s income. Further, spousal support can be sought prior to the filing of the divorce case.
Determining Which Spouse Gets Alimony
Unlike spousal support and child support, an alimony order is completely discretionary and theoretically can be sought by either spouse during a divorce case in Pennsylvania. Additionally, alimony is not automatically awarded. Instead, pursuant to Pennsylvania law (§3701(a)), alimony is only awarded when the Court finds it is necessary, i.e., the supported spouse seeking alimony demonstrates a financial need.
How is Alimony Amount Calculated?
Unlike pre-divorce spousal maintenance and child support which are calculated pursuant to a formula under Pennsylvania law, there is no set formula to calculate alimony. Instead, an alimony award is calculated based on several factors including the earning capacity of each spouse, the length of the marriage, the need of a dependent spouse and the standard of living during the marriage. It is important to understand these factors when litigating the issue of alimony.
Judge Considerations on Alimony
While there is no specific formula to calculate post-divorce alimony, Pennsylvania law does not grant the Court complete discretion. Instead, Pennsylvania law (§3701(b)) requires the Court to consider 17 factors when faced with a petition for post-divorce alimony. Alimony which is sought during a divorce case, i.e., alimony pendente lite, is calculated identically to pre-divorce spousal support, i.e., Rule 1910.16-4.
Alimony is designed to allow a dependent spouse to pay for his or her needs. Accordingly, a judge will consider the financial needs of both spouses when determining alimony payments. This includes each spouses’ living expenses and financial obligations.
Spouses’ Earning Capacity
A judge will also consider the earning capacity of each spouse including their income, education, skills, and work history before deciding to award alimony. Another factor a judge will consider is the amount of time it will take for a person to obtain additional training or education. Additionally, a judge will also consider each persons’ sources of income such as retirement assets, insurance benefits and inheritances.
Limits on Alimony
Alimony can terminate when the supported spouse remarries. Additionally, if the receiving spouse enters into a new relationship and lives with their new partner, the spouse paying alimony can petition for the alimony award to be terminated. To succeed, the paying spouse must prove the receiving spouse’s new relationship is similar to a marriage.
Does Infidelity Disqualify a Spouse from Getting Alimony?
Infidelity in of itself does not qualify a spouse from receiving spousal maintenance. However, under Pennsylvania law (§3701(b)(14)) infidelity may be considered marital misconduct which is a factor used to consider alimony. Stated simply, a judge may consider infidelity if the innocent spouse was harmed, e.g., the unfaithful spouse expended marital assets during the affair.
Types of Alimony Available in PA
Aside from pre-divorce spousal support, there are two general types of alimony available in Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania law (§3702), a person can seek alimony pendente lite after a divorce action is formally filed with the court. Further, Pennsylvania law (§3701(a)) also allows a person to seek alimony following the entry of a divorce decree.
Temporary alimony, i.e., alimony pendente lite, may be awarded during the divorce process. It is designed to help the lower earning spouse maintain their standard of living while the divorce is pending. Additionally, alimony pendente lite terminates when a divorce decree is finalized.
In many marriages it is common for one spouse to forgo school and support the other spouse while they pursue a degree or some type of job training. Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to help a spouse become financially independent. This may include education or job training to help them improve their earning capacity.
Periodic alimony is paid for a set period of time following the entry of a divorce decree. It is designed to help a spouse maintain their standard of living after the divorce. Periodic alimony may be terminated early if the receiving spouse remarries or if the paying spouse dies.
Permanent alimony is paid for an indefinite period of time. This type of alimony is generally disfavored in Pennsylvania. It is usually only granted following the end of a long term marriage in which the receiving spouse is unable to become financially independent due to age, disability, or other factors.
Talk with a Divorce Attorney About Your Alimony Questions
Alimony and spousal support can have grave financial implications. The experienced Philadelphia alimony lawyers at Schwartz, Fox, & Saltzman can help you understand your rights and obligations and provide guidance throughout the divorce proceedings. Contact us today to learn more about our services.
Summary of Qualifying for Alimony in Pennsylvania
While either spouse can request alimony and spousal support in Pennsylvania, it is generally granted to the financially dependent spouse. To qualify for post divorce alimony award in Pennsylvania, a person must demonstrate a financial need. The amount and duration of alimony payments will depend on several factors, including the length of the marriage, the income and earning capacity of each spouse, and their standard of living during the marriage.