Spousal support, also called alimony, is a financial support that one spouse provides the other during or after the divorce process. The parties may agree to the amount and duration of spousal support. However, if parties do not come to mutual terms with regards to spousal support, the court may order it. There are three types of financial support that the court may order: spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony.
Before Divorce is Final: Spousal support and Alimony pendente lite:
Spousal support and alimony pendente lite are orders granted before a divorce is finalized. The main difference between the two is the timing the order is granted. Spousal support is paid after the parties separate, but before a divorce is final. It is sometimes ordered after separation, even before a divorce action is filed.
Alimony Pendente Lite is defined as “while the action is pending”. It is a temporary order for support made after the divorce action is filed but before the order of divorce is finalized. Spousal support and alimony pendente lite cannot coexist at the same time.
Pennsylvania requires that the court use a set of guidelines in order to calculate the amount of spousal support or alimony pendente lite. The guidelines are set under Rule 1910.16-4 of the Pennsylvania Code. Even with the guidelines, the court may still make an order that is not adherent to the guidelines if the court finds special circumstances however that require it to deviate from the guidelines set in Rule 1910.16-4.
Finally, the court will almost always consider the length of marriage when ordering spousal support or alimony pendente lite.
After Divorce is Final: Alimony:
Alimony is an order granted at the time the final divorce decree is entered.
When calculating the amount of alimony, Pennsylvania law requires that the courts consider the following factors:
- the spouse’s’ income and earning capacities
- the age and physical, mental and emotional health of the spouses
- the spouses’ sources of income, including benefits like retirement, medical, insurance
- the length of the marriage
- the spouses’ inheritances and any property they are expected to inherit
- whether either spouse helped the other to get training, education, or increased income during the marriage
- whether a spouse has expenses and/or a limited earning ability due to having custody of a minor child
- the standard of living during the marriage
- the education of both spouses and how long it would take for the spouse asking for alimony to complete education or training required to find sufficient employment
- the assets and debts of each spouse
- the separate property each spouse brought to the marriage
- whether a spouse contributed to the marriage as a homemaker
- each spouse’s financial needs
- the marital misconduct of either party during marriage (the court won’t consider misconduct that happened after the final separation except if the misconduct was abuse of one spouse by the other)
- how alimony will affect each spouse’s taxes
- whether the spouse asking for alimony has enough property, including property divided in the divorce, to meet reasonable needs, and
- whether the spouse asking for alimony is unable to be self-supporting through reasonable employment.
Duration of Alimony:
Alimony payments may continue for a reasonable period of time depending on the circumstances of the divorce. The court may review and change the alimony order if the circumstances change.
However, the alimony order will automatically end if:
- the spouse receiving the alimony gets remarried
- the spouse receiving the alimony is living with a person of the opposite sex who is not a family member
- the spouse receiving alimony dies, or
- the spouse paying alimony dies, unless the order or agreement says that it will continue.