When couples divorce, it’s natural to wonder which spouse will pay or receive alimony as part of the divorce. Alimony isn’t awarded in every case. However, when a judge determines that alimony is appropriate, it’s because an alimony award will help equalize the financial impact of divorce on both spouses.
Usually this means a higher-earning spouse will pay court-ordered alimony to the lower-earning spouse (also called the “supported spouse”) to help that spouse cover financial needs. Alimony won’t last forever and a supported spouse’s remarriage or cohabitation can cut an alimony award short.
This article provides an overview of alimony awards and the affect of remarriage or cohabitation on alimony in Pennsylvania. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Pennsylvania law recognizes three categories of alimony: spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and a traditional alimony award. “Spousal support” refers to money paid by one spouse to the other after separation but before a divorce action is filed. A judge can take marital fault (such as adultery) into account when awarding spousal support.
“Alimony pendente lite” is temporary alimony awarded during a divorce proceeding. The purpose of alimony pendente lite is to allow a spouse to maintain the same standard of living while a divorce is pending. See 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3702 (2020).
“Alimony” in Pennsylvania is awarded following a divorce. There are no automatic alimony awards in Pennsylvania. Instead, alimony will only be awarded if a judge determines that it’s appropriate in your case.
A judge will award alimony when a lower-earning spouse can demonstrate a financial need and the other spouse has the ability to pay support.
To determine whether alimony is appropriate in your case, and if so, how much, a judge may examine the following factors:
If you’d like to know more about alimony in Pennsylvania, see our article Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Pennsylvania.
Either spouse can file a motion to modify alimony in Pennsylvania. The spouse seeking the change must prove that there’s been a material change in circumstances of one or both spouses. For example, if a paying spouse loses a job involuntarily, or the supported spouse receives a substantial raise, a judge will likely reduce 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.
You’ll be expected to present evidence of the changed circumstances that justify the modification or termination of alimony. If the court believes that you’ve proven your case, the judge may modify or terminate alimony retroactively from 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 you’re able to reach an agreement, you should put the terms of your settlement agreement in writing, sign it, and submit it to the court for approval.
Alimony in Pennsylvania automatically terminates upon either spouse’s death or the supported spouse’s remarriage. A paying spouse may file a motion to terminate alimony as soon as he or she learns of the supported spouse’s remarriage.
If the supported spouse married months before the paying spouse found out, a judge can order the remarried spouse to pay back any alimony paid since the date of remarriage.
A paying spouse might wonder, “can I stop paying alimony if my ex begins living with someone?" If a supported spouse begins cohabitating with a person of the opposite sex who is not a relative, he or she is no longer eligible to receive alimony. See 23 Pa. Const. Stat. § 3706 (2020). Note: Although same-sex marriage has been legal in the United States since 2015, in the majority of states, unmarried same-sex partners don't have the same rights, benefits, or obligations that married couples do, unless they register in a domestic partnership or civil union. This particular statute has not been changed to reflect that a same-sex partnership would qualify for cohabitation purposes. If you have questions about this, please contact an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney for more specific advice.
In Pennsylvania, “cohabitation” means that two people are living together in a romantic relationship, similar to husband and wife—having a boyfriend or girlfriend who occasionally stays over doesn’t qualify.
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 Pennsylvania court determined that an ex-wife was cohabiting with another man despite her claim that she was just helping a sick friend. The ex-wife and the man 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.
In another case, the court declined to terminate alimony in a case where an ex-husband receiving alimony occasionally spent nights at a woman’s house, partly because they hadn’t commingled funds or opened a joint bank account.
If you're paying alimony and believe your ex-spouse is cohabiting with a partner, you should try to gather witnesses and evidence like photographs to help you prove the cohabitation. You will need to file a motion to terminate alimony with your county court clerk’s office. If the court agrees that your ex-spouse is cohabitating, the judge can terminate alimony retroactively to the date you filed your motion.
If you have additional questions about remarriage and alimony, contact a Pennsylvania family law attorney for help.