Alimony, as it is defined under Pennsylvania law, is what most people think of when they hear the terms “alimony” or “spousal support.” This is support provided by one ex-spouse to the other after a divorce has been granted. To avoid confusion, for purposes of this article, Alimony will be referred to as “Post-divorce Alimony.”
The principal goal of Post-divorce Alimony is to effect economic justice between the parties. Reasonable Post-divorce Alimony will only be awarded when it is deemed necessary to accomplish that goal.
Older versions of the Divorce Code did provide that the court could award reasonable Alimony only if the party seeking Alimony 1) lacked sufficient property (including, but not limited to, property received in an equitable distribution) to provide for his reasonable needs, and 2) was unable to provide for those needs through appropriate employment. The older version then went on to list certain factors that a court had to consider in determining the necessity, amount, duration, and nature of an Alimony award.
But, the earlier language referred to above is not included in the current version of the Code. Rather than limiting Alimony to parties who lack sufficient property or the ability to secure appropriate employment to provide for their reasonable needs, the current Code merely includes those factors among 17 factors a court must consider (along with all other relevant factors) in determining the necessity, duration, amount, and nature of an Alimony award. (See the last 2 of the 17 factors listed below.)
Thus, spouses who have jobs and have been awarded substantial assets in an equitable distribution may nevertheless be awarded Post-divorce Alimony if the court finds (after considering all relevant factors, including the 17 specified in the Code) that such an award is reasonable and necessary to effect economic justice between the parties.
Although the court is required to consider all relevant factors, the following 17 factors must be among them:
Post-divorce Alimony may be for a definite or indefinite period, depending upon what the court determines is reasonable and necessary under the circumstances. A court may order Post-divorce Alimony, for example, while the recipient spouse acquires education necessary to obtain suitable employment or remains at home to care for the couple’s minor children.
Post-divorce Alimony may be ordered for a recipient’s entire life if the recipient is considered unable to acquire self-sufficiency during his or her lifetime because of advanced age, disability, or lack of education and work experience. Though this type of Alimony is commonly referred to as Permanent Alimony, it will be terminated if the recipient remarries or moves in with a non-relative of the opposite sex.
Yes, as is true with respect to Spousal Support, a court may decide to deny a request for Post-divorce Alimony for any of several reasons. One of the 17 factors that must be considered in granting a request for Alimony is the marital misconduct of either party during marriage. Though infidelity and cohabitation are relevant only if they occur before separation, marital abuse is relevant whether it occurs before or after separation.
Though this is a common belief, the answer is no. The court will consider your spouse’s infidelity in determining if an order of Post-divorce Alimony is appropriate, but it is only one of the minimum of 17 factors it must consider. Thus, infidelity, alone, will not deprive your spouse of a Post-divorce Alimony award.
Yes, as is true with respect to Spousal Support and APL, a wife can be ordered to pay Post-divorce Alimony to her ex-husband. The Divorce Code provides that Alimony can be ordered for either party.
The court will award support on the basis of your earning capacity rather than your actual earnings, unless it finds that your job loss was unavoidable and not used as a method of avoiding support obligations.
Though the assets you brought to the marriage are non-marital assets (and, thus, not subject to equitable distribution), they are considered because they are relevant to your ability to pay Post-divorce Alimony to your ex-spouse.
The aim is to enable the dependent spouse to come as close as reasonably possible to the standard of living he or she enjoyed during marriage. But the courts realize that many expenses are duplicated when a couple is maintaining separate households, so that the same standard of living can no longer be achieved with the same level of income. Put another way, the courts do not wish to put the obligor spouse in the poor house just to give the recipient spouse the same life he or she had during marriage.
This is another common misconception. There is no specific length required before Post-divorce Alimony is awarded, but the duration of the marriage is one of the many factors a court must consider in determining the reasonableness and amount (if any) of an award. Generally, the shorter the marriage, the smaller an award will be (all other things being equal), if one is granted.
An order for Post-divorce Alimony will be terminated as soon as the party receiving the payments remarries. If either party dies, the obligation to pay (or right to receive) the Alimony will immediately cease. In other words, it will not be payable by or to the deceased party’s estate.
No. Pennsylvania law prohibits a spouse from receiving Post-divorce Alimony if he or she enters into cohabitation with a person “of the opposite sex” who is not related according to the laws of consanguinity.
Yes. If either party experiences “changed circumstances of a substantial and continuing nature,” the order may be suspended, modified, or terminated. If an order has been suspended for changed circumstances which subsequently disappear or partially change, a prior order may be reinstituted or a new order entered.
Post-divorce Alimony payments are deductions for the paying party and taxable income for the recipient.
Yes, an agreement regarding Post-divorce Alimony voluntarily entered into by the parties will become the order of the court upon the court’s approval of the agreement. An agreement entered into either before or after marriage may be approved by the court as long as it is found to be fairly and properly executed. Unlike a Post-divorce Alimony award created by the Court, however, an award created by agreement of the parties will not generally be modified unless the agreement contains a provision allowing modification.
Divorce is a complex matter, and issues of support can be among the most complicated. The assistance of a knowledgeable divorce attorney is always advisable.