Pennsylvania courts may order a higher-earning spouse in a divorcing couple to make payments to the lower-earning spouse (the “supported spouse”) when he or she cannot afford to pay for basic expenses. When the supported spouse remarries or begins living with someone else, however, it’s important for the paying spouse to know whether alimony payments should continue.
This article explains how a supported spouse’s remarriage or cohabitation affects alimony in Pennsylvania. If you have additional questions about remarriage and alimony in Pennsylvania after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.
When a judge in Pennsylvania grants a divorce, he or she may order one spouse to pay the other alimony only when it’s necessary. Alimony may be in the form of a property transfer or a lump-sum payment, but most often it is in the form of monthly payments for a certain period of time or until a specific event occurs.
Pennsylvania courts consider several factors when deciding whether alimony is necessary, including the following:
If you would like to know more about alimony in Pennsylvania, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Pennsylvania.
When a court orders alimony, it is automatically terminated when the supported spouse remarries, whether the alimony order states so specifically or not. The paying spouse should file a motion to terminate alimony as soon as he or she learns of the supported spouse’s remarriage. The judge may order that alimony ends retroactive to the supported spouse’s remarriage date.
When a divorcing couple agrees to alimony as part of their divorce settlement agreement, alimony doesn’t automatically terminate unless it says so in the agreement. It is common for divorce agreements in Pennsylvania to contain a provision that ends alimony automatically upon the supported spouse’s remarriage. If there is no provision ending alimony upon remarriage, alimony continues according to the terms of the divorce agreement.
Pennsylvania courts can review an alimony award on the request of either spouse. The court will only modify or terminate alimony when the spouse requesting the change proves that there has been a substantial change in the circumstances of either or both spouses, and that the change is expected to continue in the future. For example, if a paying spouse loses his or her job involuntarily, or the supported spouse receives a substantial raise, the court is likely to reduce or terminate alimony. On the other hand, if a supported spouse receives a one-time modest payment of money, for example, from an inheritance, the court is unlikely to terminate alimony.
If you want to request a modification or termination of alimony due to changed circumstances, you should file a motion to modify or terminate alimony in your county court of common pleas clerk’s office. The court will schedule a hearing where both you and your ex-spouse must appear, and you will be expected to present evidence of the changed circumstances that warrant the modification or termination of alimony. If the judge believes you’ve proven your case, the judge may modify alimony retroactive to the date you filed your motion.
Alternatively, you and your ex-spouse can avoid appearing in court if you can agree to modify alimony yourselves. If so, you should put your agreement in writing, sign it, and submit it to the court for approval.
In Pennsylvania, if the supported spouse begins cohabiting with a person of the other sex that is not a relative, he or she is no longer eligible to receive alimony. Cohabitation means that two people are living together in a relationship similar to husband and wife. Having a boyfriend or girlfriend that one occasionally stays with doesn’t qualify as cohabitation. Courts are more likely to determine that two people are cohabiting if they share the same residence full-time, have a romantic or sexual relationship, and share finances similar to a married couple.
For example, a court found an ex-wife to be cohabiting with another man despite her claiming she was just helping a sick friend when they shared a room (when there was another room that could have accommodated him), kissed, and held hands, even though they claimed they didn’t have sexual relations. On the other hand, the court declined to terminate alimony in a case where an ex-husband receiving alimony occasionally spent nights at a woman’s house but they had not commingled funds or opened a joint bank account.
If you are paying alimony and believe that your ex-spouse is cohabiting with another person, you should try to gather witnesses and evidence to help you prove the cohabitation. Then you’ll want to file a motion to terminate alimony with your county court clerk’s office. If the court agrees that your ex-spouse is cohabiting, the judge can order that alimony is terminated retroactive to the date you filed your motion.
If you have additional questions about remarriage and alimony, contact a Pennsylvania family law attorney for help.