The divorce process often involves complicated issues relating to property division, child custody, and debts. Alimony is also a common area of friction during a divorce and it can be a costly and sensitive subject. Alimony involves payments from one spouse to another based on a mutual agreement or court order.
The purpose of alimony is to ease the burdens for one spouse as they transition to single life. Alimony is also designed to prevent situations where a spouse may suffer unfair economic consequences from a divorce because they earned no wages or significantly less than their spouse during the marriage. This article will focus on the differences between alimony and other forms of spousal support and will outline the general factors courts look at when determining alimony.
Categories of Pennsylvania Alimony
Pennsylvania defines alimony in the following three different categories based on which stage of the divorce process the spouses are in at the time the support is requested:
- Spousal Support;
- Alimony Pendente Lite; and
Spousal support refers to temporary financial support paid to a spouse after a separation but before a divorce is filed. Guidelines exist to help courts determine an appropriate award, but courts also look at the particular circumstances before them to determine if the guidelines are just and if they should be applied. The court may also consider factors such as abuse or pre-separation adultery in deciding whether to deny spousal support.
Alimony pendente lite is a temporary form of support awarded while a divorce is pending. The purpose of the support is to allow a spouse to maintain their livelihood during divorce proceedings and to afford the cost to moving forward with the divorce. Alimony pendente lite is not automatic - a spouse must apply to the court and demonstrate their need for support. As with alimony and spousal support, the court looks to many factors when determining if a spouse qualifies and when calculating the support amount.
In Pennsylvania, alimony refers to the financial support paid from one ex-spouse to another once their marriage ends and divorce is final. It is supposed to be based on the receiving ex-spouse's true financial need going forward, so alimony awards can vary greatly in amount and length of time they must be paid. Alimony is awarded purely at the discretion of the courts, which use seventeen factors to aid in making their decision. Despite all the factors laid out to simplify alimony award decisions made by courts, Pennsylvania laws do not automatically entitle either party to alimony.
Pennsylvania Alimony Laws at a Glance
There's value to reading the literal language in a statute, but it's helpful to also see the laws in plain English. The chart below provides you with a helpful overview of laws about alimony in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Statutes Title 23 Pa.C.S.A Section 3701 (Alimony)
Standard for Court Ordered Alimony
Where a divorce decree has been entered, courts may allow "reasonable" alimony to either party if it finds the alimony is necessary. Courts will consider all "relevant" factors to establish if alimony is necessary and to determine the:
- duration; and
- manner of alimony payments.
Courts must state the reason for their denial or award of alimony and the amount of any award given. For purposes of receiving alimony, some forms of cohabitation subsequent to the divorce will result in a bar on the award.
If the court approves an agreement for alimony payment voluntarily entered into by the parties it will constitute an order of the court for enforcement purposes.
Relevant Factors to Determine the Necessity of Alimony
Among the "factors relevant" that courts consider in determining the necessity of an alimony award, they look to:
- relative earnings and earning capacities;
- the ages and mental, physical, and emotional conditions of the parties;
- sources of income;
- marriage duration;
- marital misconduct of either party;
- diminishment of earnings due to custody of a minor child and contributions as a homemaker;
- assets, liabilities, and property brought to the marriage by either party; and
- the relative needs of the parties and standard of living during the marriage.
Pennsylvania Statutes Title 23 Pa.C.S.A:
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Related Resources for Alimony Laws
Get Legal Answers to Your Pennsylvania Alimony Questions
Whether you believe you will need to pay alimony, are receiving alimony, or are unsure whether you may be entitled to alimony in a divorce, it's important to know the laws in your state and your rights under those laws. You should discuss the facts of your individual case with a Pennsylvania divorce attorney to understand and protect your interests sooner rather than later.