Alimony in PA, also referred to as spousal support, refers to financial assistance that one spouse pays to the other after a divorce or separation. In Pennsylvania, alimony is not awarded automatically – a court determines whether there is a need for support and whether the other spouse can pay.
In this article, we discuss the basics of alimony, and how it can be terminated or modified.
How to Calculate Alimony in Pennsylvania
Factors the court considers when determining whether or not to award alimony can include:
- The contributions, monetary and non-monetary, made by one spouse to the education, training, vocational skills, career, or earning capacity of the other spouse
- The length of time that the marriage lasted
- The age, physical and emotional health of both spouses
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- The ability of each spouse to maintain a lifestyle commensurate with that established during their marriage
- Their respective assets and liabilities
- Income sources of both spouses
- The extent to which the finances of a spouse will be affected by being the primary custodial parent of a minor child
- The contribution of a spouse as a homemaker
- Each spouse’s respective financial needs based on the marital lifestyle
- Each spouse’s respective ability to pay, including with consideration of all income and assets
- The tax consequences to each party
- The education and job skills of both spouses
- Child custody arrangements when applicable
- Any history of domestic violence in the marriage
Alimony is awarded based upon what is considered fair under the circumstances, and the various types of spousal support may be calculated differently. For instance, Pennsylvania courts use predefined guidelines based on the spouses’ net incomes to determine the amount of pre-divorce support to award.
An award must be based upon clear and convincing evidence that provides specific reasons as to why alimony is being granted.
– Duration of Alimony
While there is a common presumption that every three years of marriage equate to one year of alimony, courts will likely consider various factors to calculate alimony in Pennsylvania and decide how long payment of alimony continues. If a court establishes that the recipient spouse can return to the workforce after acquiring education or the necessary training, then an award for spousal support will continue until that spouse becomes self-sufficient.
In cases where a spouse is unable to engage in any gainful employment due to disability, chronic illness, or advanced age, a court will likely order spousal support for an indefinite term. This means that payment of support will likely continue until the court is notified of a substantial change in circumstances, or either spouse passes on.
– Amount of Alimony
Where a court orders alimony pendente lite, payment of the amount of the Pennsylvania spousal support will continue until the court issues the final divorce order. An order for temporary alimony doesn’t guarantee an award for permanent spousal support. When temporary alimony ends, a court will evaluate the financial situation of the recipient spouse before making a decision regarding permanent alimony regarding the amount.
– Resolving Alimony Without Litigation
It’s true that divorce or separation is an emotional process and sometimes too complex to settle on your own. That is why there are alimony laws in PA to guide these processes and provide the necessary remedies. Yet, it would greatly benefit the soon-to-be ex-spouses if they would work out the process by themselves.
Negotiations between spouses mean that spouses take charge of the various issues, including alimony, and agree to terms that are equitable to both of them. Involving attorneys and taking the matter to court often drags out the process, and both spouses often have to pay hefty attorney and legal fees.
How to Pay Alimony
Regardless of the type of spousal support awarded, payments will most likely be periodic. In most cases, the obligor will be required to pay support on a monthly basis. Where the supporting spouse lacks a consistent source of income but has a significant amount of assets, the court can order such a spouse to make a lump sum payment.
Normally, payments for spousal support in PA are made to the court’s domestic relations department. That department (could be the court that awarded alimony or the resident court of the recipient spouse) is supposed to maintain an accurate record of all alimony payments.
The department shall also notify the court whenever the obligor is 30 days late in making alimony payments. This allows the court to take the appropriate action to enforce the alimony order
The domestic relations section also disburses the support payments to the recipient spouse soon after the obligor makes the payments.
– Spousal Support Pennsylvania Courts Can Award
Pennsylvania courts can award various types of spousal support depending on the stage of the divorce. The main types of support available to spouses are pre-divorce support, alimony pendente lite, and post-divorce support (alimony).
Pre-divorce, or simply spousal support, may be awarded to a spouse who needs support after separation but before the filing of the divorce. As such, it ends when either spouse files for divorce.
Alimony pendente lite is support ordered during litigation and before finalization of the divorce. This type of support is meant to help the dependent spouse meet their reasonable needs, divorce-related expenses, and maintain the lifestyle established during the marriage.
Alimony pendente lite may be awarded for various reasons including but not limited to the following:
- To preserve either spouse’s ability to earn income during the separation period
- To provide transitional living arrangements for one party until the entry of a specific court order on all other marital issues or until further order of the court
- To reduce both spouses’ costs by requiring one spouse to continue living in the marital home while another party pays rent elsewhere
Once the court finalizes the divorce, it may award post-divorce support, also referred to as alimony.
According to Pennsylvania alimony laws, this type of spousal support is mainly awarded to financially dependent spouses who need help with their reasonable daily expenses.
– Enforcement of Support Arrearages
Any time the obligor is in arrears in the payment of spousal support, the domestic relations section will notify the court. That court shall order a hearing, after which it may take the following actions to ensure payment of the arrearages:
- Enter a judgment
- Authorize the seizure of personal possessions and the collection of profits or rents of the real estate of the obligor
- Attach no more than half of the obligor’s wages
- Award interest on pending payments
- Require the provision of security to insure future support payments
- Award counsel costs and fees
The court can also issue attachment proceedings, addressed to the sheriff or any other relevant officer of the county, directing that the named individual has failed to comply with a court order and should be presented to the court at such time as the court may order.
If the court establishes, after the hearing, that the named individual willfully defied the court order, it shall likely find the individual in civil contempt of court. In its discretion, the court shall make an appropriate order, including handing the individual a jail term not exceeding six months.
– Enforcement of Foreign Decrees
In some cases, a person may be subject to a valid decree of another state or territory for the payment of alimony, whether temporary or alimony pendente lite. In such cases, the obligee of that decree may request the court where the obligor is found to enforce the decree as an authenticated and properly issued decree.
Once the decree is registered and adopted, the process of enforcement as provided by the alimony laws in Pennsylvania shall commence. The court shall forward a copy of the decree and order to the court of the state that originally issued the decree.
The defenses and relief available in the state which issued the original will be available to the obligor. As such, the obligor may have the right to question the court’s jurisdiction if not otherwise prohibited. The court can award interest on unpaid support installments and may require that the obligor issue security to insure payments in the future.
– Tax Implications of Alimony
Before 2019, spousal support payments were tax-deductible by the obligor and the recipient spouse had to report payments as an income. From the beginning of 2019, the government passed a law that eliminated tax implications on alimony. Supported spouses no longer have to report alimony payments as an income, while these payments were no longer tax-deductible.
Following this change, Pennsylvania updated its spousal support guidelines to reflect the tax law changes. What’s more, continue to consider the implications of the new tax laws when making a decision regarding alimony.
How to Avoid Paying Alimony
Today, there are so many takes and discussions surrounding alimony, and one of these is how to avoid alimony. The ship might have already sailed if a court has ordered alimony, but requesting modification or termination of the order provides a way to avoid paying alimony moving forward.
– Termination of Alimony
In Pennsylvania, an award of temporary alimony usually terminates upon the earlier occurrence of any of the following:
- The entry of a court order dividing marital property, assigning responsibility for debts, granting a power of attorney with respect to financial affairs, approving a separation agreement, or granting a divorce
- The entry of any court order specifically restoring the earning capacity of the party who had been receiving temporary alimony
If not terminated by court order as indicated above, temporary alimony terminates upon the expiration of 30 days after the filing date of the final decree.
The provisions of alimony terminate upon the death of either party or upon the remarriage or cohabitation of a supported spouse. In cases where a lump sum award is made for reasons other than equitable distribution, rescission will prevent any future claims for alimony from being made by the former spouse receiving payment.
– Modification of Alimony
The duration of an alimony obligation may be modified upon a showing of altered circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unconscionable.
Altered circumstances include, but are not limited to:
- A change in either party’s gross income from what was anticipated at the time the final decree was entered
- Retirement through incapacity or disability of either party after entry of the final decree
- Significant problems proven by either spouse related to health, education, or employment that existed at the time of final decree and are not substantially improved
The court shall not modify an existing decree or order with respect to alimony either upwards or downwards unless there has been a change in circumstances that makes the modification appropriate due to a substantial deterioration in either party’s financial position after entry of the final decree.
The duration of an alimony obligation may also be modified upon a showing that due to cohabitation by the supported spouse with another person on a resident, continuing conjugal basis, the needs of that spouse have significantly diminished.
The term “cohabitation” shall mean more than a single instance of social contact between two individuals for periods of time and under circumstances that show their intent to establish a life together.
– Cohabitation Features
- Frequent personal intercommunication and meetings
- Shared use and ownership of real and personal property
- Public assumption of marital rights, privileges, responsibilities, or obligations
- Regular companionship, association, or social interaction
- Sexual relations
A petition for modification must be filed within two years from the date upon which the action is brought. When no claim for relief is filed by either party, the court will retain jurisdiction to enforce or modify any order for alimony.
Alimony in Pennsylvania is not guaranteed for spouses who are going through separation or divorce. The state provides laws and guidelines that a spouse must meet before getting an alimony award.
Below is an overview of the discussion regarding alimony in the state:
- PA courts mainly award dependent spouses pre-divorce alimony, alimony pendente lite, or post-divorce alimony
- The nature, amount, and duration of alimony will depend on various relevant factors considered by the court
- A substantial change in circumstances of either spouse could warrant the modification or termination of alimony
If a divorce is inevitable, spouses are better off working out terms of alimony if one of them needs financial support. A court will likely acknowledge and enforce their agreement, provided it is equitable to both spouses.
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