Pennsylvania courts award “reasonable” alimony when the court determines that alimony is “necessary”. Unfortunately, all too often what you may think is reasonable and necessary and what the court thinks is reasonable and necessary are often two very different things. So how does a court determine when alimony is necessary and what amount of alimony is reasonable? Since there is no specific formula or calculation used to calculate alimony, you may have to rely on the experience and expertise of a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer for guidance.
PURPOSE OF ALIMONY
The purpose of alimony is not to reward a spouse or punish the other spouse. It is also not to be used solely when one spouse makes substantially more money than the other spouse. Instead, alimony is used to ensure that a spouse’s reasonable needs are met. Alimony is considered a secondary remedy, which means it is often used when the reasonable needs of a person cannot be met by way of an appropriate division of the marital property or if the spouse does not have an employable skill. In other words, alimony is to provide one spouse with added income where the property received in equitable distribution is insufficient to achieve economic equality between the spouses.
RELEVANT FACTORS TO DETERMINE ALIMONY
Unlike child support and Alimony Pendente Lite (APL), there is no online calculator to determine an exact amount of alimony. Pennsylvania courts do not use strict formulas for calculating alimony payments and duration of the payments. Instead, judges are given discretion in not only determining whether alimony should be paid, but in how much should be paid and for how long. That said, Pennsylvania alimony law does provide a list of seventeen (17) factors for judges to consider. These factors include, among many others, the duration of the marriage, the actual earnings and earning capacity of each spouse, the standard of living enjoyed by each spouse during the marriage, and so on. Arriving at reasonable and necessary alimony requires a careful analysis of a situation and each and every alimony factor. Judges are given discretion to give greater or lesser significance to one or more of the factors.
ACTUAL EARNINGS – SOURCES OF INCOME
Gross income for alimony purposes is broadly defined to include “income from any source”. This means that Judges will look not only to the income from a person’s job or occupation, but the Judge will also consider other sources of income. For example, the Judge will look at retirement benefits including pension income, company benefits, and income from real estate. A spouse’s inheritance actually receive may also be closely considered by a Judge.
Marital misconduct during the marriage may be considered by the court. If a party commits adultery, then a Judge may be more inclined to give deference to the injured and innocent spouse when determining an award of alimony.
DURATION OF ALIMONY
Using the relevant factors, courts must determine both the amount of alimony and the duration of alimony. The duration may be for a set amount of time (e.g. 12 months) or an indefinite period of time. Generally, courts will likely award alimony and for a longer duration when there was a longer marriage. If the marriage is three (3) years or less, alimony would be unlikely unless there was a compelling situation. For example, if a spouse contributed to the other spouse’s education during this time, the court may consider an award of alimony for the contributing spouse. Conversely, if a marriage lasted 10, 20 or 30 years, then an award of alimony is common.
MODIFICATION OF ALIMONY
After a Judge enters an award of alimony, the payor or payee spouse can later ask for a modification of the award. This should only be done if the spouse can prove that there is a “substantial” change in circumstances that is continuing. The Judge may then modify, suspend, terminate or reinstate alimony.
TAX CONSIDERATIONS OF ALIMONY
Until recently, alimony payments could be deducted by the payer spouse for federal income tax purposes. The recipient spouse would then have to claim the alimony as income. Now, a recent tax law changed this. Under current law, for any alimony payments under a divorce or separation agreement entered after December 31, 2018, alimony will no longer have to be included in the recipient’s income. The payer spouse can no longer claim the payments as a deduction.
It is not necessary for spouses to argue all the above factors before a judge, as the divorcing spouses are free to reach their own agreement as they see fit on the issue of alimony. Many divorcing spouses choose to reach a settlement agreement on alimony (as well as on property distribution, child custody, and any other issues in the divorce) outside of court and then submit that agreement to the Judge for approval without argument. A divorce attorney can facilitate this process of negotiating a settlement on your behalf and confirming that settlement in a written agreement, signed by both parties.
When an agreement cannot be reached, the court will analyze the factors and the facts of the case to render a decision. In preparing an alimony case, experienced lawyers will perform an analysis of the alimony factors to make a convincing and compelling case on behalf of their client.
PENNSYLVANIA ALIMONY – THE MARTIN LAW FIRM, P.C.
At the Martin Law Firm, P.C., our family law team works with individuals in divorce and related matters including alimony. We are committed to serving your needs in a compassionate and efficient manner. Call us today for a free case evaluation at (215) 646-3980