Alimony and Spousal Support
Alimony and Spousal Support
Easing Financial Stress During Divorce
t takes time to adjust to your new life after a divorce. You likely had a certain standard of living during the marriage that can no longer continue following separation and divorce. For times like these, the law provides for spousal support or alimony to ease this transition.
While they are similar, alimony and spousal support are two different things and are calculated differently in Pennsylvania. Spousal support is given to the lower earning spouse during the time between separation and divorce. It is based on the duty of each spouse to support the other during the marriage. Thus, spousal support ends when the divorce becomes final. The amount of spousal support is calculated using a statewide guideline formula based on the reasonable needs of the spouse seeking support and the ability of the other spouse to provide such support. A spouse is not entitled to spousal support if he or she has committed one of the fault based grounds for divorce, such as adultery or abandonment.
Alimony, on the other hand, is more difficult to obtain and can last for a much longer period of time. Alimony is only given if it is “necessary”, meaning the party seeking alimony has a genuine financial need. In determining whether alimony is “necessary”, Pennsylvania courts consider a total of 17 factors which are listed in the statute. Some of these factors include: the earnings and earning capacities of the parties, the duration of the marriage, the education of the parties, the assets and liabilities of each party, the standard of living established during the marriage, marital misconduct, and the ability of each party to have employment. These factors are also used in calculating the appropriate amount of alimony to award because, unlike spousal support, alimony is not calculated according to a statewide guideline.
The purpose of alimony can be either rehabilitative or reimbursement. Rehabilitative Alimony is awarded to a former spouse when that spouse needs time to rehabilitate themselves after the marriage ends, for example, by obtaining more education or employment skills. Reimbursement Alimony is awarded to reimburse a former spouse for expenses they incurred in order to benefit the other spouse. A common example of this type of alimony is when one spouse took care of the family and household or incurred substantial debt while the other spouse was pursuing an education. Alimony usually has an ending date. However, if a party is unable to provide for their own financial needs, alimony may be ordered to continue indefinitely.
Alimony is often considered along with the Equitable Distribution aspect of the divorce because the amount the party receives in the property division can assist in determining whether that party is in need of alimony, and how much. Just as with other aspects of a divorce, the parties can agree on an amount of alimony or whether alimony will be available at all. Alimony only needs to be litigated if the parties cannot reach an agreement and one party insists on seeking alimony payments.
Alimony Pendente Lite (APL)
There is also a special type of alimony called Alimony Pendente Lite, or APL. The purpose of APL is to put the divorcing parties on equal economic footing throughout the divorce proceedings. In other words, APL exists to make sure that both parties are able to adequately protect their interests throughout the divorce litigation. APL is temporary, lasting only until the divorce proceedings are final. The amount of APL is calculated based on the same guidelines as spousal support. It is important to note, however, that a party can only receive spousal support or APL. You cannot receive both. In deciding whether to grant APL, a court looks at the income of each party and whether there has been a showing that the lower earning party needs APL in order to fairly litigate the divorce. The fact that one party earns more than the other does not meant that APL is automatically available.
Modification and Termination of Alimony Payments
It is common for a person to experience changes in their financial or physical conditions throughout their lifetime that makes a previously entered order for alimony no longer appropriate. This is especially true when alimony is awarded for a long period of time. For this reason, the law provides that alimony can be modified or terminated on the basis of a substantial change in circumstances. In deciding whether to modify an alimony order, the court will look for material changes in the circumstances of either the paying party or the receiving party. For example, the party paying alimony may become disabled and unable to work. In such cases, it may be appropriate to lower the amount of alimony that party owes.
Alimony may also be terminated if certain events occur. The most common events that terminate the alimony obligation of the paying party are the death of the paying party, remarriage of the receiving party, and cohabitation of the receiving party with a person of the opposite sex who is not a member of the receiving party’s immediate family. If you have an alimony order in place and there have been significant and ongoing changes in your circumstances, you should talk to an experienced family lawyer to discuss your options.
We understand the emotional and financial stress that comes with divorce. We take the time to listen carefully to your needs and concerns and use that information to achieve the best outcome for you. Every case is different, so a cookie-cutter solution is rarely a good one in family law. The best outcomes are the ones that take into consideration the unique circumstances and goals of each client. To learn more about whether you are eligible to receive Spousal Support, Alimony, or APL. Contact Us Now to set up a free consultation.