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Spousal Support In Pennsylvania: What You Need to Know

When most individuals think of payments made from one spouse to another in connection with divorce proceedings, most immediately think of the term alimony. Alimony is one form of spousal support in Pennsylvania; however, there are also two others, spousal support and alimony pendente lite. Which one a dependent spouse receives depends upon which stage the parties are at in their Pennsylvania divorce proceedings.

The first type, spousal support, is the support that the dependent spouse can expect to receive commencing on the date of separation and lasting until either party files a divorce complaint. The amount of spousal support to be paid is determined by a formula set forth in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. The amount of support to be paid is determined by taking the net income of the obligor (individual required to pay support) minus the net income of the obligee (individual to whom support is owed). The award is 40% of the difference between the two incomes. For example, if the obligor nets $6,000 per month and the oblige nets $3,000 per month, the guideline amount of spousal support awarded to the lower-earning spouse would be $1,200 per month (40% of the difference of $3,000).

Where the obligor is also paying child support payments, these payments are also taken into consideration when calculating the guideline support amount, resulting in lower spousal support payment. Additionally, other factors such as child care expenses, payment of health insurance premiums, shared custody arrangements, and other relevant factors can affect the support calculation. There also exists certain defenses to spousal support before a divorce complaint is filed, such as when the obligee conducts him or herself in such a way that would constitute grounds for a fault based divorce, such as by committing adultery.

The next type of support is alimony pendente lite, which means alimony pending litigation. This type of support is effective from the date the divorce complaint is filed until a divorce decree has been entered and is calculated using the same formula used for spousal support. The purpose of alimony pendente lite or APL is to give the dependent spouse the financial resources that will enable him or her to defend him or herself in the divorce proceedings.

The existing defenses against spousal support are not applicable to APL. However, it is often successfully argued that APL is not appropriate if the parties are still living together; in such an instance it is generally presumed that the higher-earning spouse is essentially providing for the lower-earning spouse through the payments of bills and utilities. However, there are ways to successfully overcome this presumption.

The final, and most commonly referenced, type of support is alimony. The term alimony refers to that support which is paid once a divorce is finalized. Alimony is a secondary remedy to equitable distribution and is awarded at the discretion of a judge or upon agreement of the parties. There are no guidelines for determining alimony, although it is generally a lower amount than spousal support or APL and is usually set to last only a few years.

An award of alimony is based on the determination of 17 factors set forth in the Pennsylvania Divorce Code. These factors include the earnings and/or earning capacities of the parties, the length of the marriage, the ages of the parties, and the standard of living the parties established during the marriage. Oftentimes, alimony is awarded for rehabilitative purposes, such as to help the lower-earning spouse finish a degree or to give them adequate time to re-enter the work force and secure adequate employment. In very rare circumstances is the court inclined to award permanent alimony. Furthermore, alimony is generally not modifiable once it has been ordered, however, it can be terminated if the payee spouse begins residing with a romantic partner or remarries.

To learn more about the types of support in Pennsylvania or if you have questions about support you may be entitled to or obligated to pay, contact the experienced support attorney at McMorrow Law LLC today at 724-940-0100.

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