Alimony, also called spousal support, is a regular payment one spouse makes to the other spouse to provide financial support during and/or after a divorce. The spouses may agree to the amount and duration of alimony, or the court may order it if the spouses can’t agree. In Pennsylvania, there are three types of support orders the court can make: spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony.
Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite
Spousal support and alimony pendente lite are both orders made before a divorce is final. Spousal support is support paid after the parties separate, but before a divorce is final; it may be ordered before a divorce action is even filed. Pendente lite means "while the action is pending." Alimony pendente lite is a temporary order for support made after the divorce action is filed but before there is a final divorce decree. Orders for spousal support and alimony pendente lite can’t be in place at the same time.
When making an order for spousal support or alimony pendente lite, Pennsylvania law requires that the court use set guidelines to calculate the amount of the order. See Rule 1910.16-4 of the Pennsylvania Code for the formula the court uses to calculate spousal support and alimony pendente lite. The guidelines take into account the needs of the spouse asking for support and the net incomes and earning abilities of both spouses. The court may make an order that is different from the guideline calculation if there are special circumstances, like unusual expenses or needs. The court will consider the length of the marriage when determining how long the order will last.
Unlike spousal support or alimony pendente lite, alimony is an order for support made at the time or after the final divorce decree is entered.
There are no set guideline calculations that courts can look to when deciding whether to order alimony or to determine the type, amount, manner and duration of payments. The law requires that Pennsylvania courts consider the following factors:
- the spouses’ income and earning capacities
- the age and physical, mental and emotional health of the spouses
- the spouses’ sources of income, including benefits like retirement, medical, insurance
- the length of the marriage
- the spouses’ inheritances and and any property they are expected to inherit
- whether either spouse helped the other to get training, education, or increased income during the marriage
- whether a spouse has expenses and/or a limited earning ability due to having custody of a minor child
- the standard of living during the marriage
- the education of both spouses and how long it would take for the spouse asking for alimony to complete education or training required to find sufficient employment
- the assets and debts of each spouse
- the separate property each spouse brought to the marriage
- whether a spouse contributed to the marriage as a homemaker
- each spouse’s financial needs
- the marital misconduct of either party during marriage (the court won’t consider misconduct that happened after the final separation except if the misconduct was abuse of one spouse by the other)
- how alimony will affect each spouse’s taxes
- whether the spouse asking for alimony has enough property, including property divided in the divorce, to meet reasonable needs, and
- whether the spouse asking for alimony is unable to be self-supporting through reasonable employment.
Duration of Alimony
Pennsylvania, courts may order that alimony payments continue for a
reasonable period of time depending on the circumstances. The order may
have an end date, or it may be an ongoing order with no set end date.
The court may review and change the order if the circumstances change.
The alimony order will end automatically if:
- the spouse receiving the alimony gets remarried
- the spouse receiving the alimony is living with a person of the opposite sex who is not a family member
- the spouse receiving alimony dies, or
- the spouse paying alimony dies, unless the order or agreement says that it will continue.
Modification of Alimony and Spousal Support
If the there are significant and ongoing changes in one of the spouse’s circumstances, a spouse may file a motion to modify (change) the spousal support or alimony order. For example, if one of the spouses has a significant change of income or becomes disabled, the court may modify spousal support because of changed circumstances.
Taxes on Alimony and Spousal Support
In general, the spouse paying support can deduct the payments from income. For the spouse receiving support, the payments count as income and are taxable.