Alimony was traditionally paid by a man to his ex-wife after the couple divorced. But the world was somewhat different way back when. Today, more women are working (even after having children) and many are out-earning their husbands. As a result, when a dual-income couple divorces and the wife’s income exceeds her husband’s, a court may order the wife to pay alimony rather than the other way around.
The type of alimony paid by one ex-spouse to the other after a divorce is only one of three basic types of support that may be awarded between spouses in Pennsylvania. Each of the three types has a very specific definition and each is available under different circumstances.
Spousal Support is based upon the law that each spouse is required to support the other (according to their respective abilities) at all times during marriage. There are defenses to a request for Spousal Support, however, such as adultery, abandonment, or abuse. There are no such defenses available to a request for APL.
PA Statutes Providing for APL, Spousal Support, and Alimony Are Gender-neutral
Pennsylvania’s Domestic Relations Act clearly provides that APL and Spousal Support can be awarded to “a spouse” in proper cases. The language is gender-neutral, in other words, so that the court can order an award in either direction. Likewise, the statutory provision for Alimony states that a court may order Alimony “to either party.”
Although either party may have a right to receive Spousal Support or APL when the circumstances warrant it, Alimony is not an absolute right in Pennsylvania. Whether Alimony will be granted to begin with, for how long, and in what amount will be determined by “all relevant factors,” including the 17 factors specifically listed in the relevant statute.
Each one of the factors listed is gender-neutral and several make it clear that either party can be forced to pay Alimony to the other. Factor 1, for example, requires the court to consider the “relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties.” Factor 16 requires the court to consider “whether the party seeking alimony” lacks sufficient property to provide for that party’s reasonable needs. And Factor 17 requires the court to consider “whether the party seeking alimony” is incapable of self-support through proper employment.
Awarding of Support Paid by a Woman to a Man Is Not New
Although such awards have increased in recent times, Pennsylvania recognized the right of a man to receive certain types of support from his wife decades ago.
In a 1974 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, the Court found that the version of the APL statute then in effect violated the Equal Rights Amendment because it allowed for a wife to receive APL from her husband but not for a husband to receive APL from his wife. The Court found that sex could no longer be used in Pennsylvania as a factor to determine the relative rights and responsibilities of parties. Just as a wife can be granted support from her husband, the law must allow a husband to receive support from his wife where the circumstances justify such support.
The Court stated: “Thus, as it is appropriate for the law where necessary to force the man to provide for the needs of a dependent wife, it must also provide a remedy for the man where the circumstances justify an entry of support against the wife. In short, the right of support depends not upon the sex of the petitioner but rather upon need in view of the relative financial circumstances of the parties.”
In a 1988 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, the Court made a comparable ruling with respect to Spousal Support.
As more and more women out-earn men, we can expect to see more such awards in Pennsylvania.