In many separation and divorce matters, one spouse earns more than the other spouse , which results in the spouse with less income relying upon the financial support of the other spouse. In Pennsylvania, the economically disadvantaged spouse has the ability to collect formal, court-enforced support. There are three different categories of support paid from one spouse to another: spousal support, alimony pendente lite (“APL” for short) and alimony. When each type of support is paid and how the support is calculated differs between the three categories.
Spousal Support: A complaint for spousal support can be filed even if there is no pending divorce case. In some circumstances, the parties elect to separate their households, but not move forward with a divorce matter for a variety of reasons, including a desire to repair the marriage. What sets spousal support apart from alimony pendente lite is that a spousal support claim may be challenged by the other spouse if there is proof of fault, such as marital misconduct.
Alimony Pendente Lite: Alimony pendente lite (“APL”) is, in essence, the same as spousal support except that it is available after the filing of a divorce complaint. Alimony pendente lite cannot be challenged in the same way that spousal support can and, as a result, if there are concerns about a parties’ entitlement to spousal support, typically a divorce complaint is filed with a request for APL.
The Pennsylvania Rules provide us with the formula to calculate both spousal support and APL. Both of these types of support terminate upon the issuance of a divorce decree, but post-divorce financial support may be granted in the form of alimony.
Alimony: Some spouses may be entitled to receive financial support in the form of post-divorce alimony. Unlike spousal support and alimony pendente lite, which are calculated pursuant to a math equation provided by the Pennsylvania Rules, alimony is based on the court’s analysis of factors set forth in the Pennsylvania statutes. Those factors are listed below. Alimony can be modifiable or not modifiable. It is important for those seeking alimony to keep in mind that alimony is not designed to equalize parties’ incomes or be punitive in nature, but is rather meant to address the reasonable needs of the person who is unable to become self-supportive through appropriate employment.
Alimony Factors in Pennsylvania:
- The relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties.
- The ages and the physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties.
- The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.
- The expectancies and inheritances of the parties.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.
- The extent to which the earning power, expenses or financial obligations of a party will be affected by reason of serving as the custodian of a minor child.
- The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.
- The relative education of the parties and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment.
- The relative assets and liabilities of the parties.
- The property brought to the marriage by either party.
- The contribution of a spouse as homemaker.
- The relative needs of the parties.
- The marital misconduct of either of the parties during the marriage.
- The Federal, State and local tax ramifications of the alimony award.
- Whether the party seeking alimony lacks sufficient property, including, but not limited to, property distributed under Chapter 35 (relating to property rights), to provide for the party's reasonable needs.
- Whether the party seeking alimony is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment.
There are many nuances to support calculations, particularly if you or the other party have unusual or fluctuating sources of income or a nonconventional custody arrangement. Sitting down with an attorney to evaluate the facts of your case, (including both parties’ incomes), is the best way to ascertain whether you will have exposure to pay support or whether you are likely to receive support. Having an idea of the impact of support, in all forms, will help you plan ahead both emotionally and financially.