Alimony is a court-ordered provision for a spouse to receive payments for his or her support or maintenance from the other spouse after a divorce. The person who pays alimony is the supporting spouse and the person who receives alimony is the dependent spouse. In almost every circumstance, the dependent spouse made less money than the supporting spouse during the marriage.
PURPOSE OF ALIMONY
The purpose of alimony is to provide financial support for one spouse after a divorce where that spouse depended on the other spouse for financial support during the marriage. In Pennsylvania, a court may allow alimony to either party only if the court finds that alimony is “necessary”. When the court decides that alimony is necessary, the court will only award alimony in an amount and for a length of time that the court deems reasonable based on the specific circumstances. In other words, there is no formula to calculate alimony in Pennsylvania because the amount and duration is within the discretion of the court.
FACTORS TO DETERMINE ALIMONY
Determining whether necessity exists is a complex analysis, and the court will examine evidence and listen to arguments for both parties based on the following factors:
- 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 longer the marriage, the greater the case for alimony assuming other factors exist).
- 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 (e.g. abuse, infidelity).
- 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 acquired through equitable distribution of marital property, to provide for the party’s reasonable needs.
- Whether the party seeking alimony is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment.
AMOUNT AND DURATION OF ALIMONY
The court will analyze the aforementioned factors to determine the amount and duration of the alimony order. An alimony order can be for a definite period of time or for an indefinite period of time, whatever the court deems reasonable. The amount of factors and types of evidence that a court will analyze is so complex, working with an experienced divorce attorney can have a huge impact in how the court treats your interests in setting alimony. One rule of thumb to consider is that the dependent spouse should receive one (1) year of alimony from the supporting spouse for every three (3) years of marriage. This “rule of thumb” assumes that the factors exist that support an order of alimony. Further, this is usually a starting point for negotiations. The duration and amount can increase or decrease depending on how the attorneys present the case.
MODIFICATION AND TERMINATION OF ALIMONY
An alimony order is subject to modification upon the changed circumstances of either party of a substantial and continuing nature. In these situations, the order may be modified, suspended, terminated or reinstituted or a new order made. Pennsylvania law provides for automatic termination of alimony when the dependent spouse remarries or cohabitates with a person of the opposite sex or when either party dies. The parties may also agree on alimony and the court can subsequently approve of the agreement. In these instances, the parties may agree to non-modifiable alimony or waive the automatic termination upon remarriage or cohabitation. An agreement between the spouses may also require that the supporting spouse name the dependent spouse as a beneficiary on life insurance. The death benefit that is payable to the dependent spouse replaces the alimony payments that automatically cease after the death of the supporting spouse.
Dependent and supporting spouses should consider different types of alimony.
Example 1. A divorcing couple was married for 25 years. One spouse was a full time parent and homemaker during the marriage. The other parent has a doctorate degree and substantial earnings. The homemaker spouse would unlikely ever achieve the standard of living that existed during the marriage. In this case, the court would likely award permanent alimony, meaning the alimony will continue indefinitely until there is a major change of circumstance or a trigger terminates the alimony, such as the remarriage of the dependent spouse.
Example 2. A divorcing couple was married for 6 years. One spouse earns significantly more than the other spouse, but the other spouse has a college degree and expects to earn more in the future. In this case, the court would probably order term alimony, meaning the alimony will have a definitive term and then expire.
Example 3. A divorcing couple was married for 10 years. One spouse has a college degree, is employed and is self-sufficient. The other spouse is going back to college to get a degree so that he/she can become self-sufficient, just like the other spouse. In this case, the court could order rehabilitative alimony so that the dependent spouse can maintain a standard of living while he/she goes back to college to get a degree and become self-sufficient. The court will consider the costs of education or training and his/her ability to work part time or full time while obtaining the degree.
Example 4. A divorcing couple was married for 10 years. One spouse supported the other spouse while that spouse obtained a doctorate degree during the marriage. That spouse is now a surgeon. Upon divorce the surgeon spouse may be ordered to pay alimony designed to reimburse the other spouse for the time and support that the other spouse gave to the surgeon spouse who now holds a valuable degree and high income potential.
ALIMONY LAWYER – THE MARTIN LAW FIRM
For many couples, alimony is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, financial consequences of a divorce. Even where there are limited financial assets to split up at the time of the divorce, court-ordered alimony can last for years, far exceeding the costs involved in property distribution. And when there is at least one high-earner in the marriage, alimony can involve many thousands of dollars a month. Because the economic implications of alimony can be enormous and long-lasting for both the potential paying spouse and the receiving spouse, it is important to work with an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney who can ensure that your interests are protected. Contact us today at 215-687-4053 to discuss your case.