How is Alimony Determined in Pennsylvania?

Alimony concept. Open envelope with cash on the wooden desk.

When you go through a divorce, every aspect of your life can change — including your financial circumstances. This is especially true for a spouse who was economically dependent on the other during their marriage. While alimony is not automatically awarded in every divorce, a Pennsylvania court will evaluate a number of factors to determine whether a spouse has a financial need for it, and the other has the ability to pay.

What is Alimony?

After a divorce, it can take some time to get back on your feet if you were the lower-earning spouse in the marriage. Alimony in Pennsylvania is not a punishment or reward for either spouse — and it is not awarded in every case. Specifically, alimony is monthly payment made by the higher earning spouse to the other after a divorce is finalized. It is meant to address the financial needs of the dependent spouse and the amount can vary greatly, based on the facts of the case.

There are different types of financial support that may be awarded, depending on the phase of the case. Pennsylvania law allows judges to award support before the divorce decree has even been issued. “Spousal support” is financial support that may be available to a dependent spouse upon separation. It ends when the divorce papers have been filed.

Similar to spousal support, alimony pendente lite may be awarded while a divorce case is ongoing. This temporary arrangement may be available after a spouse has filed for divorce, but before the judgment is signed. The purpose of this type of support is to “level the playing field” so that each spouse is able to maintain him/herself and maintain his/her side of the divorce case.

What Factors Determine Pennsylvania Alimony?

Spouses may settle the issue of alimony outside of court through negotiations, mediation, or another form of alternative dispute resolution. However, in some cases, the matter can be contentious. If an agreement regarding alimony cannot be reached, a judge will have to determine the outcome.

There is no set formula used by Pennsylvania judges to decide alimony. Rather, a court will award reasonable alimony when it is deemed necessary. 23 Pa.C.S. §3701 sets forth many factors that determine how alimony is determined in Pennsylvania — and whether it is available at all.

When evaluating an alimony award, a judge will consider the following factors:

  • The relative earnings and earning capacity of each spouse
  • The ages and health conditions of the spouses
  • Each party’s income sources
  • The expectancies of any inheritances
  • The length of the marriage
  • Any contributions to the education or training of the other spouse
  • The degree that a spouse will be financially affected as custodial parent of a minor child
  • The standard of living enjoyed by the parties during the marriage
  • The education of the parties
  • The relative assets and liabilities of each party
  • Property brought into the marriage by either spouse
  • Homemaker contributions by a spouse
  • The relative needs of the spouses
  • Marital misconduct committed by either party
  • Tax ramifications of an alimony award
  • Whether the party requesting alimony lacks sufficient property to provide for his/her their reasonable needs
  • Whether the party seeking alimony can support himself/herself themselves through reasonable employment

Alimony may be awarded for a definite or an indefinite period of time, depending on what the judge considers reasonable under the circumstances — a judge has wide discretion in divorce cases when it comes to the amount of time alimony must be paid. While the duration of the marriage can play a role in determining alimony, there is no minimum amount of time a couple must have been married to receive this form of support.

Can Alimony be Modified?

Alimony can sometimes become a financial hardship for the spouse who has been ordered to make payments. In the event there is a substantial change in circumstances, Pennsylvania law permits an alimony order to be modified, suspended, terminated, or reinstituted. If the party receiving alimony remarries, the order automatically terminates.

Reasons for Pennsylvania alimony modifications can include involuntary job loss, permanent disability resulting in the inability to be employed, medical emergency, or retirement. The party ordered to pay alimony can also request a modification if the other party is living with a significant other — or their income has increased, and payments are no longer necessary.

Can Pennsylvania Alimony Payments Be Enforced?

If alimony has been ordered by the court, an ex-spouse can face severe consequences if they do not comply. Whether the party has failed to make payments because they are facing financial difficulties, or they simply refuse to adhere to the order, they cannot simply take it upon themselves to stop paying alimony.

The party receiving alimony has various tools available to them to enforce alimony payments. For instance, they may ask the court for an order garnishing up to 50% of the paying party’s wages or seize their property. They might also ask to be awarded interest on unpaid alimony or seek an order holding the other party in contempt of court — this can result in the issuance of a monetary fine or jail time.

Contact an Experienced Pennsylvania Attorney

Berman & Associates offers compassionate counsel and high-quality representation for those facing divorce and Pennsylvania alimony matters. We take the time to address your concerns, listen to the facts of your case, and advise you regarding the best course of action. Located in Media, Pennsylvania, we serve clients in Delaware, Chester, and Montgomery Counties, as well as in the City of Philadelphia. We welcome you to contact us to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Child Support, Divorce