Alimony in Pennsylvania

Easing the Pain of Divorce

Easing the Pain of Divorce

First, I must apologize for the picture. Alimony can be paid by either spouse, and with the increasing number of women who earn more than their Husband’s, this is no longer uncommon. The authors of free clip art haven’t caught on to this yet.

When most people think about alimony, they are talking about support for a former spouse, which continues after a divorce is final. In Pennsylvania, Alimony Pendente Lite can be awarded during a divorce: this is a temporary form of alimony, which can be awarded while a divorce is pending.

Spousal support is an entirely different process: this is support that is paid following a separation, but before a divorce. Spousal support is still governed by old-fashioned notions of fault in divorce: in order to receive it, the economically dependent spouse must prove that the separation was caused by their Wife or Husband, and that they are free from fault. This is a carryover from the days when all divorces were based on fault. In 1980, when the Pennsylvania legislature added no fault grounds to the divorce law, they also made provision for awards of alimony.

Marital fault still plays a role in an award of alimony, but it is only one of 17 factors which the court must consider in determining whether alimony should be awarded. Fault is not even considered when deciding whether to award Alimony Pendente Lite: the thinking being that providing economic support is necessary to allow the dependent spouse to contest the divorce.

There are many other factors. These include the earning capacities of each party, any other sources of income or property owned by either party, and the duration of the marriage. The contribution made by one party to the education of another, and the contribution of a spouse as homemaker are also considered.

An individual who cohabits with a person of the opposite sex is barred from receiving alimony.

How these factors play out is left to the discretion of the Court. Every situation is different, and the Judge (or Master) who hears the case is required to set forth a statement of reasons, explaining how the factors have been weighed, and applied to the circumstances of this case.

The duration of an alimony award is also a matter of discretion. The age of the parties, and the length of the marriage are usually the most important factors which the courts look at in determining the length of time for which alimony must be paid.

For spousal support, or alimony pendente lite, there is a formula which is used to determine the amount that is paid. If there are no dependent children, support is based on 40% of the difference between the spouse’s net income (or income capacity, if one of the spouses is able to work, but chooses not to). When there are children, spousal support is based on 30% of the difference in incomes. The amount of child support is determined first, and that is deducted from the obligor’s income.


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