A primer on Pennsylvania alimony law

Alimony in Pennsylvania is relatively straightforward.

The alimony reform movement that has influenced some northeastern states to significantly change their alimony statutes has not yet resulted in a similar change to Pennsylvania law. In the Keystone State, the judge still retains broad discretion to set alimony awards as he or she finds appropriate and necessary to the divorcing spouses' situation.

First, a clarification about terminology is in order. Alimony is the payment of support by one ex-spouse to the other after divorce. In most states, spousal support is a synonym for alimony, but not in Pennsylvania, although the concepts are closely related. Spousal support is support paid by one spouse to the other during the marriage based on the legal duty of one spouse to support the other. Spousal support is usually paid during a period of separation.

The terms of an alimony arrangement are often negotiated between divorcing parties as part of an overall marital settlement agreement that is incorporated into the divorce order. If an agreement is not reached, the judge in the divorce will determine all issues related to alimony.

Pennsylvania statutes governing alimony are fairly short and straightforward. The judge may order alimony in a divorce if he or she finds it reasonable and only if it is necessary. To determine whether alimony is necessary as well as the specific details of the award like amount and duration, the judge is instructed to consider all relevant factors, including those in a specific list:

  • Parties' relative income and earning capacities
  • Parties' ages and "physical, mental and emotional conditions"
  • Parties' sources of income
  • Parties' "expectancies and inheritances"
  • Marriage length
  • Contributions by one spouse to the other's "education, training or increased earning power"
  • Impact of child custody on "earning power, expenses or financial obligations"
  • Marital standard of living
  • Parties' educations and how long it would take for the person seeking alimony to get the education or training needed to find appropriate work
  • Parties' relative assets and liabilities
  • Property brought into the marriage
  • Homemaker contributions
  • Parties' relative needs
  • Marital misconduct before separation and abuse of one party by the other at any time (interestingly, some other states do not allow marital misconduct to be considered, although all would likely consider abuse)
  • Tax ramifications
  • Whether the party asking for alimony does not have enough property to meet his or her reasonable needs
  • Whether that party is "incapable of self-support through appropriate employment"

Alimony may not be ordered if the potential recipient is cohabitating with another person after separation from the other spouse. The court may set the alimony duration for a set period of time or indefinitely, depending on what is "reasonable under the circumstances."

If either party experiences a change in circumstances of a "substantial and continuing nature," the court may modify, suspend, reinstitute or terminate the alimony order or issue a new order.

Alimony terminates if the recipient remarries, cohabitates or dies. It also ends when the payor dies, unless an agreement between the parties or a court order provides otherwise.

This article is only a brief introduction to the topic of Pennsylvania alimony. Questions about a particular situation should be directed to an experienced family lawyer.

The attorneys of Berman & Asbel, LLP, in Media, Pennsylvania, represent clients in divorce and other family law matters in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and in southeast Pennsylvania.