There are three basic types of support that may be payable to a spouse or ex-spouse in Pennsylvania: (1) Spousal Support, (2) Alimony, and (3) Alimony Pendente Lite. Each type has a very specific definition and each is available under different circumstances.
The following questions are among those most often asked by individuals trying to get a better understanding of the workings of Pennsylvania’s support law.
Spousal Support is only one of the three types of support mentioned above, and not a catch-all term as many people believe. Spousal Support is an order for one spouse to support the other while the parties are still married and before a divorce has been commenced.
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. Its purpose is to ensure that both parties to a marriage will do their utmost to provide for each other’s needs.
Spousal Support may be ordered when spouses are separated but neither has yet filed for divorce. It may also be ordered when spouses are still living together but one has simply refused to support the other. In other words, it need not be connected to a divorce at all.
Spousal Support is awarded pursuant to a statewide guideline that provides a formula for determining the appropriate amount. The guideline is based upon the reasonable needs of the party seeking support and the ability of the other party to provide the support.
The purpose of the guideline or formula is to treat persons who are in similar situations in a similar manner. An assumption is made that parties with similar incomes will have similar needs.
Although it is presumed that the amount arrived at through application of the guideline is the correct amount, the court may find that the guideline amount is inappropriate or unjust in the particular circumstances. Deviations from the amount prescribed by the formula may be made for unusual needs, extraordinary expenses, and other factors, such as the parties’ assets.
In determining your reasonable needs and your spouse’s ability to meet them, primary emphasis will be placed upon the net incomes and earning capacities of both you and your spouse.
The courts focus on reasonable needs when determining Spousal Support, which may not be the same as actual living expenses. If your spouse spends extravagantly, such expenditures are likely to be considered beyond his or her reasonable needs.
Likewise, if you are fully capable of earning an income sufficient to meet your or your spouse’s reasonable needs but have neglected to or refuse to do so, income equal to your earning ability may be imputed to you in determining the amount and necessity of an award.
Yes, a wife can be ordered to pay Spousal Support to her husband. As stated above, the law requires spouses to support each other according to their respective abilities at all times during marriage.
A showing of adultery, abandonment, or abuse committed by the party seeking Spousal Support will be considered by the court and may cause it to deny the party’s request. Stated another way, anything that might constitute grounds for a fault-based divorce on the part of the spouse seeking support may cause the court to deny the support.
Spousal Support will not be denied, however, because the party seeking support has engaged in marital infidelity after the parties have separated. Only infidelity before separation will be considered.
Any award for Spousal Support will automatically end with the termination of the parties’ marriage. It can also be modified or changed if the parties’ circumstances no longer warrant the original award.
Pennsylvania courts take support orders very seriously. A willful failure to make required support payments can result in a fine of up to $1000, imprisonment for as long as 6 months, and/or probation for as long as a year.
Alimony Pendente Lite (APL) is a temporary order of support to be paid from one spouse to the other during the pendency of a divorce. In other words, APL will not be ordered until the divorce is commenced and may only last until the divorce (including any appeals) is final.
The primary purpose of APL is to give both spouses the same financial ability to pursue or defend the divorce. It is also intended to provide the dependent spouse (during the pendency of the divorce) with the standard of living he or she enjoyed while living with the independent spouse.
APL will be ordered when spouses have unequal financial resources to pursue a divorce.
As is true with respect to Spousal Support, the amount of APL will be determined by a statutory formula in the Pennsylvania support guidelines. The court will consider the ability of the independent spouse to pay APL, the amount and nature of the dependent spouse’s separate income and estate, and other relevant factors.
You may or may not. The court may take the duration of your marriage into account in determining an award for APL.
Yes, as is true with respect to Spousal Support, the spouse with the greater income may be required to pay APL to the other in order to even the financial playing field during the pendency of the divorce.
No. Unlike requests for Spousal Support or Post-divorce Alimony, requests for APL do not involve consideration of issues such as marital infidelity, cohabitation, abuse, or abandonment. As long as your spouse requires APL to place her in a financial position equal to yours during the pendency of your divorce and you have the ability to pay, APL will be granted.
Yes, an award of APL can be modified or terminated if a change in circumstances justifies the modification or termination.
Yes, spouses can make their own agreement regarding APL. Such an agreement can be executed either before or after marriage and will be approved by the court if it was fairly and properly executed. Unlike an APL award fashioned by the court, however, an APL agreement entered into between the parties and approved by the court will not generally be modified unless the agreement contains a provision allowing modification.
Awards for Spousal Support and APL cannot be in effect at the same time. A court might order Spousal Support after parties separate but before either has filed for divorce. Then, after a divorce is filed, an order for APL may be entered in lieu of the order for Spousal Support.
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.